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Michiel Jansz van Miereveld (Delft 1567-1641)

A Bearded Old Man with a Shell c.1606

Oil on panel | 87.6 x 67.3 cm | RCIN 403956

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The sitter here appears to be the same man (at the same age) as that in the portrait in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, which is dated 1606 and signed Miereveld (though the signature is difficult to read). It has been suggested that both these paintings depict the artist's father, who was eighty years old in 1606. Shells were collected in the seventeenth century and frequently appear as precious objects in still life paintings. The old man here seems to be showing us this fine specimen with the animation of a proud owner. Shells are also associated with mortality (another reason why they appear in still life paintings): the shell here might bear the same meaning as the skull often held in portraits especially of the elderly and God-fearing.