Willem van Mieris - inv. 4735
The son of Frans van Mieris (Leyden 1635-1681), a leading exponent of the fijnschilders (sophisticated painters) of Leyden, Willem painted in his father’s tradition. His works are characterised by a meticulous attention to detail, the smoothness of the paint matter and refined colour.
Recounted in Boccaccio’s Decameron, the story describes the vulgar Cimon, who one day saw the beautiful Iphigenia lying asleep in a meadow with two servants and a companion: enraptured contemplation of such beauty ennobled his spirit and thoughts.
The Dutch translation of the Decameron was published by Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert in various editions (c. 1565, 1583, 1607 and so on) and the story of Cimon and Iphigenia was particularly popular in the art world of the northern Low Countries. This was probably due to the evocative moral of the tale – beauty that fires the most noble and pure sentiments – and to the possibilities for pictorial interpretation it offered.
In the painting, the figures are set in a woody cave that opens up to show mountains in the distance; on the right, Cimon, leaning against his stick, looks ecstatically at the beautiful naked Iphigenia asleep with her companions. The smoothly-painted flesh is wrapped in sumptuous drapery and caressed by a warm light that imbues the whole scene. The old ruins on the right, together with the figure types and their poses, show interest in classic derived from Italy.