With a penetrating stare and a pose of detachment, this sitter forms a formidable first impression. In a heavy black doublet and cap, with the hint of an embroidered linen collar, he epitomises the reserved luxury characteristic of the patriciate of the sixteenth-century Low Countries. The smooth, elongated symmetry of his face and high cheekbones suggest his high social status, while his short, closed collar and low gathered cap typify the prevalent fashions of the 1540s in Holland. Superficially, such elements allude to the sitter’s role in the play of social theatre, yet it is from closer inspection that much can be gleaned of the picture’s original intention and attribution: along with the golden Jerusalem cross hung low around his neck, in raking light, an overpainted palm branch is detectable resting on his left shoulder (confirmed through x-ray examination; fig. 1), identifying him as a knight of the Jerusalem Brotherhood.
Jerusalem brotherhoods were confraternities established in many Netherlandish towns by the sixteenth century, open to individuals who had completed the journey to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, considered the most sacred site in Christendom. As the church taught that every human soul awaited a period in purgatory of unknown duration after death, it was believed that through a re-enactment of Christ’s journey during His Passion, pilgrimages could claim and hasten their eternal spiritual salvation. Upon completion of these pilgrimages, they were commemorated in group, or more rarely, individual portraits, which were reserved for figures of greater social and spiritual status (see J. Woodall, ‘Painted Immortality: Portraits of Jerusalem Pilgrims by Antonis Mor and Jan van Scorel’, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 31, 1989, pp. 149-163).
The iconography of the present portrait was seemingly established by Jan van Scorel, himself a canon of both the Utrecht and Haarlem brotherhoods. With his first known depictions of the two confraternities dating from after 1525, he appeared to have a monopoly in their representation and held a workshop to meet the demands of his commissions. As the largest number of portraits of Jerusalem pilgrims came from the Low Countries, it led them to be regarded as something of a ’Dutch phenomenon’. Typically shown in seemingly transverse movement, wearing hats and outdoor clothes to symbolise the arduous journey, the sitters’ three-quarter pose and apparent progression emulated Christ’s journey towards death and Resurrection, with the portraits feasibly directed at a sculpted reproduction of the Holy Sepulchre in the chapel in which they hung, walking towards the holy eternal light shown illuminating them. Beneath them were painted trompe l’oeil papers or panels typically including inscriptions referring to their pilgrimages and prayers in the first person, intended to inspire commemoration from their viewers. Upon close examination, the present panel appears to have been reduced from a larger format and most probably included such a feature. In composition and costume, the work in the original was likely comparable to a later Portrait of a Pilgrim to Jerusalem (location unknown; see M. J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, Leyden and Brussels, 1975, XII, p. 127) identified as a member of the Utrecht confraternity and historically attributed to Scorel, and more recently, possibly to Scorel’s once apprentice Anthonis Mor (c. 1517-1577).
While sharing striking similarities with Scorel’s portraits, and almost certainly originating from his workshop, the present work also exhibits a great affinity with the work of Anthonis Mor, suggesting the possibility that the work was either executed by the artist himself or by another working closely with him, well-versed in his style and compositions. The sweeping, thinly applied paint is characteristic in its immediacy, as are the individual hairs rendered with a sense of mimesis and presence, though subtly appreciable among the uncharacteristic swirling, animated strokes of the beard. The detail of the collar, with its daring yet restrained punctuations of impasto, further contrasts the stiff shapes of the sober costume, revealing a boldness in the artist. Infrared reflectography (available upon request) reveals preparatory drawing in the outlines of the face, particularly the brow, cheek, eyes, nose (visible through the paint), beard, ears and collar, suggesting that the portrait may have been painted ad vivum and potentially later reproduced in a larger group work.
Unlike the grounded figures of Scorel’s narrative portraits, such as that of the Five members of the Utrecht Jerusalem Brotherhood of after 1541 (Utrecht, Centraalmuseum), the artist here conceives both a sense of lifelike presence in the sitter, as if he was seemingly walking before acknowledging the viewer, and as the presence of his immortal soul.
We are grateful to Dr. Joanna Woodall for her assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.