Portrait of a Man (Self-Portrait?)
oil on oak panel
17 in. x 12 1/4 in. (43.18 cm x 31.12 cm)
The unknown sitter in this bust-length portrait turns toward the viewer in a three-quarter pose. His eyes meet the viewer’s gaze, while his left hand gestures as if he is speaking to someone. His clothing, like his pose, is simple and modest. He wears a white collarless shirt underneath a billowing black coat. The sharply defined, sculptural features of the man’s face are accented by a bristly beard, mustache, and sideburns. The only embellishment occurs in the sitter’s broad-brimmed red hat, which he wears over a black skullcap. The underside of the brim is adorned with decorative lacing, buttons covered with precious gemstones, and a gold engraved badge bearing an illegible motif in its center. Jan Gossaert’s careful attention to detail is evident in his depiction of the individual hairs of the man’s beard, the stitching along the edge of the collar of the coat, and the glittering, bejeweled buttons on the hat. The man’s left hand is rendered very realistically, showing Gossaert’s close study of human anatomy. The green background and cast shadow of the sitter are typical of Gossaert’s portraits from this period.
Context and Analysis
Gossaert excelled in the art of portraiture, and his realistic depictions of nobles, clergymen, foreign dignitaries, and devout donors were in great demand, particularly in the period from 1520 to 1530. His wealthy patrons included the courtly circles of the Low Countries and Denmark. In 1508, just a few years after he became a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke, Gossaert traveled to Rome with Philip of Burgundy(1464–1524), for whom he later worked as court artist. Gossaert’s trip to Rome had a profound effect on his art, and he later combined his knowledge of Italian models with Netherlandish artistic traditions. This composition illustrates the interplay found in many of Gossaert’s portraits between classical forms and ideals, and the characteristically Netherlandish emphasis on carefully observed detail.
The identity of the man pictured in this portrait has been the subject of considerable debate. The sitter’s neutral attire, which does not immediately associate him with the nobility or the church, has prompted some art historians to speculate that he was a successful painter.1 Others have suggested that the painting is a self-portrait of Gossaert;2 however, it is impossible to determine this with certainty, since only a few vague likenesses of the artist are known.3 The large badge affixed underneath the brim of the man’s hat resembles similar badges found in several other portraits of prosperous gentlemen and aristocrats painted by Gossaert in the same period.4 In spite of the uncertainty regarding the sitter’s identity, it is clear that Portrait of a Man depicts an individual of elevated status and considerable prestige.
Written by Nadia Baadj
1 Jan Gossaert genaamd Mabuse, exh. cat. (Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen; Groeningemuseum: Bruges, 1965), 197, no. 33; Herzog, 294, no. 42.
2 Schwarz, 167–68.
3 For further analysis of Gossart’s appearance in this and other works, see Ainsworth and others, 3–4.
4 See, for example, Ainsworth and others, cat. nos. 41, 47, 48, 49, 53, and 63.
Ainsworth, Maryan W., Stijn Alsteens, Nadine Orenstein, and others. Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance: The Complete Works. Exh. cat. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010, cat. 46, 260–62.
Herzog, Sadja. “Jan Gossaert Called Mabuse (ca. 1478–1532): A Study of His Chronology with a Catalogue of his Works.” 3 vols. Ph.D. diss., Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA, 1968.
Schwarz, Heinrich. “Jan Gossaert’s Adam and Eve Drawings.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts (October 1953): 167–68.
“Self Portrait of the Artist.” Currier Gallery of Art Bulletin (November 1951).
1929 Kleinberger Galleries, New York, NY, Loan Exhibition of Flemish Primitives. Oct. - Nov.
1949 Witte Memorial Museum, San Antonio, TX, "Paintings of the XVI-XIX Century." (loan exhibition from Knoedler & Co., NY).
1950 John Herron Art Museum, Indianapolis, IN, "Holbein and his Contemporaries." Oct. 22 - Dec. 24.
1965 "Jan Gossaert." Organized by the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen. Traveled to: Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands, May 15 - June 27; Stedelijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Groeninge Museum), Bruges, Belgium, July 10 - Aug. 31.
1972 Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, "Painting, Sculpture and Decorative Arts from the Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire." May 14 - June 20.
2006-2007 Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, Extended Loan of European and American Paintings. Aug. 2006 - Nov. 2007.
2010-2011 "Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasure: Jan Gossart's Renaissance." Traveled to: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, Oct. 5, 2010 - Jan. 9, 2011; National Gallery, London, England, Feb. 16 - May 22, 2011.
Frederick B. Pratt
Mrs. Christian C. Herter
M. Knoedler & Co., New York, NY
Purchased by Currier Gallery of Art, 1951