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Joos van Cleve (?Cleve c. 1485-1540/1541 Antwerp)
Joos van Cleve (?Cleve c. 1485-1540/1541 Antwerp)

Portrait of a bearded man, bust length, wearing a black beret, a fur lined surcoat and crimson undersleeves, holding a dagger

Details
Joos van Cleve (?Cleve c. 1485-1540/1541 Antwerp)
Portrait of a bearded man, bust length, wearing a black beret, a fur lined surcoat and crimson undersleeves, holding a dagger
oil on panel
9 ¾ x 7 ¾ in. (24.7 x 19.6 cm.) including later additions of 3/8 in. (0.9 cm.) to the lateral sides
Provenance
Schwarz Collection, Berlin; Hugo Helbing, Munich, 21 May 1935, lot 45, as 'Meister der Statthalterin Maria von Ungarn', where acquired by the family of the following
[Property of Two Sisters]; Sotheby's, London, 5 December 2012, lot 1, as 'South Netherlandish School, circa 1530', where acquired by the present owner.
Exhibited
Brussels, Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, Renaissance portretten uit de Lage Landen, 6 February 2015-17 May 2015, no. 10.

Lot Essay

Exuding determination and gravity, the sitter captured in this remarkable portrait gazes sternly beyond the picture plane, causing deep furrows in his brow. Just like the strength of his character, his physical person seems barely contained by the narrow space afforded to him by the composition he occupies. Although unknown to us (at least for now), the man’s identity was perhaps once revealed through armories on the painting’s frame. The fineness of his dress, along with his deportment, strongly suggests that this was an individual of noble birth. He sports a black beret adorned with a gold badge and aiglets, a sartorial trend appearing in several portraits of members of the nobility and royalty from the first decades of the sixteenth century, including Bernard van Orley’s Portrait of Charles V (Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest), Michel Sittow’s Portait of Christian II of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen), and Joos van Cleve’s Portrait of Francis I (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia), as both Peter van den Brink and Till-Holger Borchert have observed (see T.-H. Borchert and K. Jonckheere, loc. cit.). Plush, dark brown fur lines the sitter’s black overgown as well the collar of his doublet, the darkness of which effectively highlights the gold of his buttons, his chain with pendant and the beautifully worked hilt of his dagger. The intensity of the man’s stare, as well as the general impression of supreme confidence conveyed by this painting call to mind Hans Holbein’s Portrait of Charles de Solier, comte de Morette of c. 1534-1535 (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden). In fact, one need only compare both sitters’ distinctive noses, deeply creased cheeks and penetrating blue eyes beneath elegantly arched brows to note a strong resemblance, which opens up an interesting avenue of investigation, particularly since Joos van Cleve arrived in France around 1525.
At the time of the 1935 sale, Max J. Friedländer suggested an attribution to the Master of Mary of Hungary, an anonymous master who scholars later associated with William Scrots. The painting more recently sold at Sotheby’s, New York, as South Netherlandish School, circa 1530. It was only after a recent cleaning, in which the dirty varnish and years of surface dirt were removed, that the remarkably intact paint surface was revealed, allowing scholars to reconsider the attribution. Following this conservation, Borchert suggested an attribution to Joos van Cleve, which was endorsed by van den Brink. In an unpublished study on the painting, van den Brink compares the notably large proportions of the sitter’s head in relation to his body to Joos’s Portrait of an unknown man (fig. 1i; Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede), which similarly represents a man, half-length, against a green background. Cécile Scailliérez dates the Enschede portrait, along with the pendant portrait of the man’s wife, to circa 1515 (C. Scailliérez, 'Die Porträtkunst Joos van Cleves’, in P. van den Brink, ed., Joos van Cleve. Leonardo des Nordens, exhibition catalogue, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen, 2011, pp. 94-95, figs. 68- 69, nos. 44-45), while John Hand considers them to be about five years later (J.O. Hand, Joos van Cleve. The Complete Paintings, New Haven and London, 2004, pp. 64-67, figs. 67A-B, no. 30). Van den Brink and Borchert favor the earlier dating, and suggest that the present portrait likely dates from the same period, that is circa 1515, or one or two years later. Van den Brink also notes that the present work exhibits the same fluid and painterly brushwork as that of Joos’s Portrait of a man with a rosary in Kassel, which Scailliérez places circa 1518 (op. cit., note 9, pp. 93-94, fig. 66) and Hand dates to two years later (op. cit., note 9, pp. 130-131, no. 31).
Infrared reflectography provides further support of Joos’s authorship (fig. 2). As van den Brink has noted, very few portraits by the artist have been examined in this manner, but those that have been studied reveal that he used only a minimal amount of underdrawing for his sitter’s faces. Joos tended to block out the features with a few lines, which would guide him as he freely worked up the paint surface, most likely working from an elaborate drawing, taken from life. Looking at donor portraits in his altarpieces, one finds the exact same technique. In the so-called 'large’ Adoration of the Magi in Dresden from circa 1517-18, for instance, van den Brink observes that the donor portrait of the Genoese merchant Oberto de Lazzari is prepared with cursory lines that quickly define the contours of the face, chin, nose and eyes, in nearly the exact same manner as seen in the present work. Notably, infrared reflectography also shows large brushstrokes across the entire surface, known as 'streaking’, indicating that small amounts of black paint, applied with a thick brush, were used to prepare the support. The use of this type of colored ground is very rare in Joos’s oeuvre, but as van den Brink notes, can be compared to Joos’s Saint Reinhold Altarpiece from before 1516 (National Museum, Warsaw), where streaking is seen in the Baptism of Christ.

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