Small Formats - Great Art
In the Baroque era, not only monumental paintings were treasured. Art lovers also eagerly collected small-sized cabinet pictures. Often kept in small and private rooms like studiolos, they enabled an intimate and exclusive enjoyment of the arts. They encouraged the beholder to view them close up and to admire the delicate painting technique and the precision of detail that captured the big world in miniature.
Some artists specialised in small-scale painting, such as the Leiden "Fine" painters. Their time-consuming painting method, using the finest brushes on smooth copper or wood panels, achieved the highest prices with connoisseurs. Other painters chose their formats in response to the commission or the occasion. In contemporary art theory the ability to paint in both large and small dimensions was highly praised.
The small format put no restrictions on the variety of topics and was ideally suited for entertaining storytelling. Miniature landscapes are like colourful "hidden object pictures". Next to venerable biblical themes we find loving portrayals of everyday life in homely parlours. The intimate view of the quiet bustle awakens a special sympathy. Subtly painted mythological nudes evoke a sense of voyeurism.
Small portraits were also in demand. Faces, costumes and accessories are painted with the same degree of finish found on full-length figures. In still life-painting, the small format provided an opportunity to paint the objects life-size. This enhances the eye-deceiving illusion that they are within reach.
Oil sketches and studies on small panels are a special feature. With rapid brushstrokes the artists designed their compositions as an experiment or as a draft. They provide an immediate insight into the creative process and were therefore highly sought-after collectors’ items.