Previously attributed to Hugo van der Goes (circa 1440-1482), this highly-finished portrait of a man is more likely to date from the years approaching 1500. Very little comparable material survives from this date, although there are some similarities with a group of drawings in the Kupferstichkabinett, Dresden (invs. 812, 813 and 814), now thought to be by the Master of the Princely Portraits. The execution of the present work, however, is finer than that of the Dresden group. The features, particularly the delineation of the heavy-lidded eyes, show the influence of earlier Netherlandish and Flemish masters such as Jan van Eyck (circa 1395-1441) and Petrus Christus (circa 1410/20-1475). The latter's Portrait of a Man with a Falcon (circa 1450; Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, inv. 725) provides a particularly instructive comparison. The technique is very similar, although where Petrus tends to favour parallel hatching, the present artist uses extensive cross-hatching. Both artists model the neck in the same way, with a marked line around the circumference of the neck at the level of the Adam's apple. The facial type of the present sitter is more robust than that commonly found in Petrus's work, with a square jaw which is nevertheless suggested more by subtle hatching than by the firm line with which Petrus delineates his falconer's jaw. As is often the case with Netherlandish drawings of that period, it is difficult to know if the present sheet is a study for a painting (unfortunately unidentified) or a ricordo.
The drawing is executed on a very thin and fine paper, probably French, prepared with an ivory-coloured ground. For metalpoint drawings a ground was commonly made of powdered bones or lead white mixed with a binder of gum water (water with gum arabic) and applied in several coats to the paper. In this drawing the lines left by the metalpoint of the stylus have oxidized to the medium brown tone characteristic of silverpoint (on the technique and function of Netherlandish drawings of the 15th century, see F. Koreny, in Early Netherlandish Drawings from Jan van Eyck to Hieronymus Bosch, exhib. cat., Antwerp, Rubenshuis, 2002, pp. 10-20).
We are grateful to Dr Fritz Koreny for his assistance with cataloguing this drawing.