This enigmatic portrait of a bearded man eludes us as to both the identity of the sitter and the artist. A Netherlandish work dating to the second quarter of the sixteenth century it depicts a scholar in his study surrounded by the accoutrements of his vocation. In style and format the portrait bears the influence of Quentin Massys, founder of the Antwerp school of painting. The soft modelling of the man's face and sfumato technique in depicting light and shadow shows the influence of Italian art as interpreted through Massys' Netherlandish eyes. The shelves stacked with books, a candlestick as well as letters with red wax seals nailed to the wall identify the man as a scholar. This type of composition is based on a Massys model. The animated hands and realistic texture of the man's beard and fur collar also bear the influence of Massys whose bust-length portraits often included these life-like details.
Massys contribution to and influence upon Netherlandish portraiture - as is evident in the present portrait - lies in the distinction he made between religious and secular subjects. The sitter is firmly placed and identified by his secular attributes. The secularization of portraiture grew out of the Netherlandish tradition of Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling. However, those earlier artists while identifying the sitters based on their vocation or stature always included a religious element to the compositions - mainly in the format of devotional images. Massys, and other artists working in Antwerp in the early sixteenth century eliminated the overt religious aspect to their portraits, influenced no doubt by the development of humanism as as advocated by Antwerp native Erasmus.
Dr. Larry Silver has pointed out that the style of the man's cap dates to the 1530s, placing the work in the years immediately after Metsys' death (1530).
We are grateful to Dr. Larry Silver for his assistance cataloguing and attributing this work.