This fine Renaissance portrait remains shrouded with much mystery; despite its undeniable quality and distinctive hand, neither the maker nor the sitter have been securely identified. The picture closely relates to an engraving published by Philips Galle in 1587 and inscribed ‘DAMIANUS A GOES’, thus identifying the sitter as the celebrated Portuguese humanist Damião de Góis. A pivotal figure from the Iberian Renaissance, Damião de Gois was a typical humanist polymath: a trade secretary, writer, philosopher, translator of Cicero, diplomat, courtier and composer. Through his extensive travels in Europe, he met and earned the friendship of the leading thinkers of his day, from Thomas More to Erasmus and Martin Luther. A keen amateur of Northern art, in the 1530s de Góis commissioned on behalf of the Portuguese royal family two major books from the leading Bruges illuminator Simon Bening (London, British Library, Add. Ms. 12531; Brussels, Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, Ms. II 158; see T. Kren and S. McKendrick Illuminating the Renaissance : the triumph of Flemish manuscript painting in Europe, London, 2003, pp. 447-48, 460-63 and 476-70). The only difference between the painted panel and the print by Galle is the finely executed badge adorning the sitter’s cap: it depicts a draped female figure holding a cornucopia in one hand and a scale in the other, thus identifying her as Aequitas, a symbol of good government that frequently featured on Roman coins (for instance in several examples from the British Museum in London). The badge itself may be one such antique coin and would have signalled the sitter’s erudition and profound knowledge of the ancient world.
The engraving by Galle, which bears the famous monogram ‘AD’, is believed to be based on a lost drawing by Albrecht Dürer, an anonymous copy of which survives in the Albertina in Vienna (fig. 1). Another painted version after the drawing or the print exists in a private collection. If Dürer actually devised the original drawing for this portrait then it is unlikely to depict de Góis, as the German artist and the Portuguese man of letters never met (M. Mende, ‘Dürer’s so-called Portrait of Damião de Góis: towards a reconstruction of a lost painting of 1521’, Tribute to Lotte Brand Philip, New York, 1985, pp. 103-111). If, however, the drawn prototype is not Dürer’s invention, but that of a Netherlandish artist and executed during de Góis’s stay in Antwerp from 1523 onwards, the identification of the sitter may stand. This proposition finds further support when comparing the present portrait with the only secure likeness of de Góis: a damaged relief from his funerary monument at S. Maria de Varzea in Alenquer (see fig. 2), which bears strikingly similar facial features to the present portrait (reproduced in J. Segurado, ‘Damião de Goes. Pinacoteca – ‘Ecce Homo; Capela Tumular; Retrato escultórico’, Belas-Artes, 2, 1975, pl. V-X; discussed by L. Campbell, Man, Myth Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance, New York, 2010, p. 296). Stylistically, the panel compares well with the fine and polished manner of Antwerp painting of the first half of the 16th century, especially the portraits of Joos van Cleve and Quentin Massys.
We are grateful to Peter van den Brink and Till Holger-Borchert for their help in cataloguing this lot.