Michael Sweerts combined unrelenting naturalism and timeless classicism, whether depicting beggars, exotic visitors from the Orient or elegant upper-class patrons. Born in Brussels, Sweerts travelled to Rome between the mid-1640s and mid-1650s, achieving great success. While there, Sweerts executed paintings for several Dutch merchants, including Anthonij de Bordes (1615–1678), a cloth merchant from Amsterdam who worked in Italy in the late 1640s. Sweerts portrayed De Bordes having his boot removed by a manservant, an unusual pictorial motif which subtly points to the sitter's social status. De Bordes is depicted as though he has just returned from a ride as dusk settles in, holding onto the bright red felt lining while his manservant tugs at a dust-covered boot. Discarded spurs and slippers lie next to the saddle, while his sword rests on the tapestry-draped table. His dog, possibly a Dutch kooiker hound, lies down behind his master to recover from the outing's exertion. The timbered plaster walls and dirt floor suggest that this scene takes place in the stable's tack room. Through the arched gate, the idyllic landscape includes a specific reference to Rome. The dove atop the obelisk is the symbol of the Pamphilj, one of the most powerful families in Rome at the time. In 1651 Camillo Pamphilj, nephew of the reigning Pope Innocent X (Giovanni Pamphilj), became Sweerts's most important patron. The obelisk in the painting's background thus subtly reinforces the message that both De Bordes and Sweerts moved among Rome's elite.
For both men the stay in Italy was temporary. By 1653, Anthonij de Bordes had returned to Amsterdam, where—in partnership with his older brother Boudewijn—he continued to be successful as a merchant in fine linen. Michael Sweerts had returned to Brussels, where he started a drawing academy, by 1656. He moved to Amsterdam around 1660, but soon afterwards joined a Catholic missionary group bound for India, where he died in 1664.
on saddle in right foreground, in monogram: MS
Probably the sitter; probably by inheritance to his daughter, Maria de Bordes [1655-1686]; probably by inheritance to her husband, Daniël Deutz [1644-1707]; by descent in the De Bordes family; by inheritance to C.J. de Bordes, Velp and Bussum, by 1907; C.A. Van Walré de Bordes, The Hague; sold November 1984 through (S. Nystad, The Hague) to Dr. Arthur and Arlene Elkind, New Rochelle; purchased 9 February 2012 by NGA.
- A Collector's Choice: One hundred 17th century Dutch paintings principally from private collections, Mauritshuis, The Hague, 1982, no. 84, repro.
- Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections, National Academy of Design, New York, 1988, no. 50, repro.
- Michael Sweerts (1618-1664), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, 2002, no. IV, repro.
- Martin, Wilhelm. "Michiel Sweerts als schilder. Proeve van een Biografie en een Catalogus van zijn schilderijen." Oud Holland 25 (1907): 146-147, no. 5, repro.
- Kultzen, Rolf. "Michael Sweerts." 2 vols. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Hamburg, 1954: 254, no. 18.
- Waddingham, Malcolm. "Recently Discovered Paintings by Sweerts." Apollo 118, no. 260 (October 1983): 282, fig. 2.
- Jansen, Guido M.C. "A Family Tradition Confirmed: Sweerts's Portrait of Anthonij de Bordes." The Hoogsteder Mercury12 (1991): 37-41.
- Kultzen, Rolf. Michael Sweerts, Brussels 1618 - Goa 1664. Translated and edited by Diane L. Webb. Doornspijk, 1996: 16 n. 10, 24, 56, 56 n. 5, 96-97, no. 32, repro., as Master and Servant.
- Bikker, Jonathan. "The Deutz brothers, Italian paintings and Michiel Sweerts: new information from Elisabeth Coymans's Journael." Simiolus 26, no. 4 (1998): 301-302, fig. 21.