Circle of Jan Gossart (called Mabuse), (Netherlandish, about 1478 – 1532)
Unknown, portrait of a man, c. 1520
oil on oak panel
40.6 x 30 cm
Levy Bequest Purchase, 1994
To view an interactive image comparison of this artwork:
Sir F.J. Charles Robinson, England
Frederick R. Cook, Richmond, England
Sir Herbert Cook, Doughty House, Richmond, England
Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, England
D.G. van Beuningen, Vierhouten, The Netherlands by 1940
E.V. Thaw & Co., Inc., New York
Peter J. Sharp, New York
Museum purchase, Sotheby’s, New York, via agent Thomas and Brenda Brod, 1994
National Exhibition of Works of Art, Leeds, England, 1868, no. 555 (as being by Holbein)
Holbein Ausstellung, Der Zwinger, Dresden, Germany, 15 August – 15 October 1871 (as a Portrait of Antonio Fugger by Holbein, no. 282)
Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, and by Deceased Masters of the British School, including a Special Collection of Work by Holbein and His School, Royal Academy of Art, London, England, 5 January – 13 March 1880 (as a Portrait of Antonio Fugger by Holbein, no. 190)
The New Gallery, London, England, 1898, no. 111
Exhibition of Flemish and Belgian Art, 1300-1600, Royal Academy of Art, London, England, 8 January – 5 March 1927 (as Attributed to Mabuse, no. 196)
Het Portret in de Oude Nederlanden, Stedelijk Museum, Bruges, Belgium, June – August 1956, illus., no. 34
Jan Gossaert genaand Mabuse, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and Bruges, Rotterdam, 15 May – 27 June 1965, illus. p. 200, no. 34
Jan Gossaert genaand Mabuse, Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium, 10 July – 31 August 1965, illus. p. 200, no. 34
Levy Bequest Purchases, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 6 June – 21 October 1994
Enduring Influences, McMaster Museum of Art, Togo Salmon Gallery, 5 April – 11 June 1995
The Levy Legacy, McMaster Museum of Art, Tomlinson Gallery, 1 September – 3 November 1996
Levy Series, Northern Art in the Age of Cock, Durer, Rubens & Rembrandt, McMaster Museum of Art, Levy Gallery, 10 May – 25 August 2007
Light Echo: Dianne Bos and Doug Welch, McMaster Museum of Art, Panabaker Gallery, 17 September – 31 October 2009
Levy Bequest Purchase, Sotheby’s, NY; Thomas and Brenda Brod; Peter J. Sharp, NY; E. V. Thaw & Co., NY; D. G. van Beuningen, Vierhouten, the Netherlands by 1940; Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, England; Sir Herbert Cook, Doughty House, Richmond, England; Frederick R. Cook, Richmond, England; Sir F. J. Charles Robinson, England; McMaster Museum of Art
In this striking portrait, a man in a black cap sits in front of a trompe-l’oeil frame and gazes directly out at the viewer (Fig. X). In his right hand he holds a book, marking his place with both the book’s cover flap and his index finger. Just above the book, light shines off the handle or hilt of a silver object. The sleeves of the man’s shirt are slashed, exposing a red undergarment that provides colourful accents to his otherwise dark costume. The identity of the sitter is unknown. The portrait survives in its original size and format, although it has lost its original frame.[i] This painting was acquired by the McMaster Museum of Art as a Jan Gossaert, a famous Netherlandish artist known for his portraits as well as his religious and mythological scenes. However, this attribution has been questioned, and technical investigations, especially using infrared reflectography (IRR), have helped clarify this issue.[ii]
IRR revealed extensive underdrawing in the portrait, which was executed in at least two different stages (Fig. X). A rounded arch was initially drawn behind the man, using a liquid medium and a relatively large brush, but this feature was later abandoned. The drawing of the sitter was executed in a dry medium. Adjustments were made to the sitter, for example, to the curve of the sitter’s own right shoulder as well as to the shape of his collar and hat. Such changes suggest that the artist was not making a copy from an existing composition, but rather experimenting with various ways to frame and enhance his subject. These alterations are indicative of the creative process at work. There is, however, an area of the underdrawing that lacks the freshness of these areas of change: the modelling of the face has been rendered in a more precise manner, carefully employing parallel hatching to indicate areas of shade (Fig. H). This difference may suggest that the artist was working from an existing study drawing of the subject’s face. A drawing would provide the essential features of the likeness and could be used later to create the painting in the workshop. The lack of significant changes to the face and the confident manner of the underdrawing supports this view.
Many portraits attributed to Gossaert exhibit similar features to the McMaster portrait of a man such as the illusionistic frame and three-quarter view. However, based on her recent study of its underdrawing, Maryan Ainsworth has rejected the attribution of this portrait to Gossaert.[iii] Ainsworth argues that Gossaert did not use parallel hatching when completing the underdrawing of his subjects’ faces for portraits (Fig. H). She also cites the relatively poor execution of the sitter’s hands as evidence that Gossaert did not create the McMaster painting.[iv] It seems possible that this portrait was produced in Gossaert’s workshop by one of his assistants or journeymen. The large number of copies that exist after Gossaert’s smaller works has led to the hypothesis that he indeed established a workshop to help satisfy the demand for his paintings, which was common practice in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.[v]
Ainsworth tentatively attributes this portrait to the Master of the Lille Adoration.[vi] This suggestion is complicated by the fact that the style of the available underdrawings from this latter master does not compare well with that of the McMaster work. Furthermore, no portraits are firmly attributed to the Master of the Lille Adoration. Without a solid comparative foundation of similar works, a conclusive attribution of the McMaster painting to the Master of the Lille Adoration is not possible.[vii] If Ainsworth’s attribution were to be correct, the McMaster portrait would be of critical importance for further research into the works of Gossaert, especially in regard to his portraits.
[i] Like this painting, many works produced during this period were created with the frame already attached to the panel support. Although the original frame of this McMaster portrait has been lost, the current dimensions are original, since the panel retains its unpainted outer edge (where the panel was covered by the frame) and the barbe on all four sides. The barbe was created when the ground layer was smeared into the corner where the panel and frame met. Even if the original frame is removed, the barbe and unpainted edges remain intact as long as the panel is not then cropped.
[iii] Ainsworth lists the portrait, along with others, under the heading “previously attributed to Gossaert” in Maryan W. Ainsworth, ed. Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossaert’s Renaissance, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 306.
[iv] Specifically, Ainsworth cites modelling of the sitter’s thumb as an area of lesser technical facility. Ainsworth, Man, Myth, 79. However, the thumb’s somewhat awkward appearance may be due to the fact that its position was changed during the painting process.
[v] Jacqueline Folie, “Gossaert, Jan,” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 18, 2014, http://www.oxfordartonline.com.proxy.queensu.ca/subscriber/article/grove/art/T033403.
[vi] Ainsworth, Man, Myth, 79. The Master of the Lille Adoration is an artist whose oeuvre had been previously attributed to Dirck Vellert, who was an artist popular among his contemporaries for his stained glass windows. See Ellen Konowitz, “Dirck Vellert and the Master of the Lille Adoration: Some Antwerp Mannerist Paintings Reconsidered,” Oud Holland 109, no. 4 (1995): 177–90.
[vii] This view is also supported by Ellen Konowitz. Ellen Konowitz, e-mail message to author, August 27, 2014.