Though a Flemish painter Michael Sweerts worked in Italy, Syria, and India. By the age of twenty-eight, Sweerts was living in Rome and was a member of the painters' academy there. In subsequent years, Sweerts worked as a representative at the papal customs house, collecting wool for a wealthy Antwerp merchant. At the age of thirty-eight, he returned to his native Brussels, where he founded an academy of drawing and joined the painters' guild.
Almost all of Sweerts's paintings date from his time in Rome. Sweerts painted religious and secular works, but he is most noted for his realistic portraits. His paintings exhibited his interest not only in the observation of daily life but also in the study of classical sculpture, which he pursued in Rome.
Four years after returning to Brussels, Sweerts left again, this time to Asia as a missionary. In Aleppo, Syria, Sweerts painted and proselytized, but he was dismissed from the mission after only two years because of his unstable and undisciplined character. He eventually reached Goa, India, where he died two years later.