Superfluous details have been kept to a minimum in this portrait, encouraging the viewer to focus on the sitter’s penetrating gaze and serious demeanor. The restrained palette of earth tones and deep shades of black also help direct our attention on this young gentleman’s face and the confident character it communicates. The subtle modelling of the sitter’s features, the typical bust-length format, as well as the olive background suggest that the painting is by France’s leading portraitist after the Clouets, Corneille de Lyon. Although the man’s identity has yet to be determined, his rounded beard and attire conform to French fashion of the mid-16th century. In particular, the sitter’s toque and garments closely resemble those worn by the Calvinist jurist Laurent de Normandie in a likeness of 1552 (Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, inv. 1928-13; see A. Dubois de Groër, Corneille de La Haye dit Corneille de Lyon, Paris, 1996, pp. 186-7, no. 89), as well as those seen in several other portraits of unknown gentlemen produced by the artist in this period.
Interest in portrait collecting intensified in France during the 16th century. Typically executed on an intimate scale, such as the present example, portraits were often kept in private settings, such as a personal study, where they could be examined at leisure. Corneille employed a variety of background colors throughout his career, including black and blue, and most frequently green, ranging from vibrant lime to more subdued olive. A monochromatic background of a hue similar to the one seen in the present portrait may be found in the Portrait of an Unknown Man in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne (ibid., no. 104). Working from a photograph, Alexandra Zvereva has suggested that the present portrait may have been produced in Corneille de Lyon’s workshop (written communication, 18 November 2014), noting, however, that the beautiful treatment of the hair and beard as well as the somewhat maladroit proportions, particularly the oversized head, are typical of Corneille.