The J. Paul Getty Museum

Head of a Woman

Object Details


Head of a Woman


Michael Sweerts (Flemish, 1618 - 1664)




about 1654


Oil on panel

Object Number:



50.6 × 37.5 cm (19 15/16 × 14 3/4 in.)

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Object Description

A woman, her thin hair tightly wrapped in a white scarf, looks out at the viewer with teary eyes and a toothless smile. The urban poor of Rome and the peasants of the neighboring countryside inspired Michael Sweerts during his stay in Italy in the mid-1600s. The practice of painting the lower classes was relatively new at the time, and pictures of the poor were often derisive caricatures. Sweerts, however, treated his subject with compassion, vividly capturing the woman's inner beauty while accurately recording her external appearance: the loose skin, thinning hair, and wart on the left side of her face.

Although the painting is highly finished, Sweerts's rich brushwork is evident in alternately blended and separated strokes of different shades, creating a strong sense of three-dimensional form. This brushwork is especially striking in the head scarf and the collar.

by 1974 -

Herner-Wengraf Ltd. (London, England) and Rafael Valls Limited (London, England)


Private Collection (Ireland), sold to Richard L. Feigen & Co.
Source: Richard L. Feigen (verbally 1978) said it came from Ireland.

- 1978

Richard L. Feigen & Co. (New York) (New York, New York), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1978.

Michael Sweerts (1618-1644) (March 9 to December 1, 2002)
  • Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), March 9 to May 20, 2002
  • California Palace of the Legion of Honor (San Francisco), June 15 to August 25, 2002
  • Wadsworth Atheneum (Hartford), September 19 to December 1, 2002
Tronies: Marlene Dumas und die Alten Meister (October 29, 2010 to February 6, 2011)
  • Haus der Kunst (Munich), October 29, 2010 to February 6, 2011
Recent Acquisitions in Context (September 2 to November 16, 2014)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), September 2 to November 16, 2014

Fredericksen, Burton B. Masterpieces of Painting in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1980), unpaginated, no. 40, ill.

Waddingham, Malcolm. "Additions to the Oeuvre of Michael Sweerts." J. Paul Getty Museum Journal 8 (1980), pp. 66-67, fig. 6.

Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), p. 146.

Kultzen, Rolf. "Michael Sweerts als Bildnismaler." Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 40 (1987), p. 216, fig. 16.

Kultzen, Rolf. Michael Sweerts: Brussels 1618-Goa 1664. Diane L. Webb, trans. (Ghent: Davaco, 1996), pp. 66, 70n64, 71n67, 120, no. 102, fig. 28.

Jaffé, David. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), p. 123, ill.

Jansen, Guido, and Peter C. Sutton. Michael Sweerts (1618-1664), exh. cat. Duncan Bull, ed. (Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 2002), pp. 142-43, no. 22, ill.

Baker, Kenneth. "Legion of Honor Pays Homage to Flemish Painter Sweerts." San Francisco Chronicle (June 17 2002), pp. D1, D4, ill.

Vlieghe, Hans. Review of Michael Sweerts. Amsterdam, San Francisco, Hartford. Burlington Magazine 144, no. 1192 (July 2002), pp. 443, 444, ill.

Wescott, Angela Archibald. "Michael Sweerts (1618-1664): The Artist as the Learned Master." M.A. thesis (Department of Visual Arts, Brigham Young University, 2007), p. 17n60.

Dercon, Chris, et al., eds. Tronies: Marlene Dumas und die Alten Meister, exh. cat. (Munich: Haus der Kunst, with Richter Verlag, 2010), pp. 66, 109, ill.

Krempel, León. "Sapphos Blick über die Schulter / Sappho's Backward Glance." In Tronies: Marlene Dumas und die Alten Meister, exh. cat. Chris Dercon et al., eds. (Munich: Haus der Kunst, with Richter Verlag, 2010), p. 20.

Fredericksen, Burton B. The Burdens of Wealth: Paul Getty and His Museum (Bloomington: Archway Publishing, 2015), pp. 187-88.

Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. Michael Sweerts (1618-1644): Shaping the Artist and the Academy in Rome and Brussels (Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2015), pp. 23, 41, 102, 104, 239, pl. 9.

Allan, Scott, Davide Gasparotto, Peter Björn Kerber, and Anne T. Woollett. Masterpieces of Painting: J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018), p. 76, ill.

Lehmbeck, Leah, ed. Gifts of European Art from The Ahmanson Foundation. Vol. 3, Dutch Painting, Flemish Painting, Spanish Painting and Sculpture (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2019), p. 79, under no. 19.