Oil painting - materials & techniques: panel maker's mark
On the reverse of this little panel by Adriaen Brouwer there is a panel maker's mark. It is smaller than a postage stamp but this mark, with the monogram MV, indicates that it was made by Michiel Vrient (active 1615–37).
The panel is made of oak, the wood most commonly used by painters in Northern Europe until the 19th century.
Michiel Vrient is recorded as an apprentice in Antwerp in 1605 and as a master panel maker in 1615. His mark has been found on many panels painted by the great Flemish painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Vrient was asked to make additions to the panel that Rubens was painting for the High Altar in Antwerp Cathedral, as it was considered too small. For this he was paid 38 guilders on 11 May 1626.
A major role of the craft guilds was to maintain the quality of the work of their members. In most cities acceptance by the guild was essential in order to either acquire training or run a business. Antwerp was important as a centre for the production of luxury goods. Craftspeople developed high degrees of specialisation although, as the following example of woodworkers shows, they had skills in common. Joiners, panel makers and frame makers are all referred to as producing joined panels for painters.
In 1617 the Antwerp Joiners' Guild drew up new regulations to ensure the quality of the panels leaving a joiner's workshop. Item 4 of the 1617 regulations stated that 'every joiner is from now on obliged to punch his mark on frames and panels made by him, on pain of a fine of three guilders'. The guild further decreed that all the panel makers should register their marks. Twenty-two names and marks were listed. Despite the rule, many surviving panels have no maker's mark.