Tuesday, 21 November 2017

"Unknown, 16th century": Close to Barthel Bruyn, or a Flemish Master?

Duesseldorfer Auktionshaus, from Germany, sells on 25 November 2017 as lot 178 an "Unknown master, 16th century" portrait of a lady, estimated at 800 Euro.

It looks definitely German, and seems to be close to the works of Barthel Bruyn the Elder (1493-1555) or the Younger (ca. 1530-1610). They often portrayed similar women with elaborate headdresses, large jewels, and fine hands with flowers in them.

Details show that the work is finely painted, but seems to lack some finish, perhaps due to too much cleaning. It could also be a later copy, but it seems rather well done in that case. The jewel shows some seated figure, perhaps a Christ child?

Most Bruyn portraits of woman (and most woman portraits from the period in general) look to the left, as they were the rightside panel of either a diptych (with the portrait of their husband) or a triptych (with the husband as the left wing, and central some religious scene). A woman looking right is probably some unmarried woman (e.g. a widow). 

Comparable works by Bruyn are e.g. this portrait of a woman from the San Diego Museum: she is also holding a flower and has her hand on the lower frame, which gives a realistic, lifelike effect loved by e.g. the Early Netherlandish painters as well.

Other portraits also show similarities, but somehow the artist doesn't seem to match with the work for sale.Bruyn's works almost always have a monochrome background, the figures look horizontally ahead (not somewhat downward like in the work for sale), and some elements are done somewhat differently (like the shadows).

Looking further, and a bit more in the direction of Early Netherlandish painters, brought me first to Jan Provoost (1462-1529). Especially the above 1505 portrait has some clear links to the work for sale, e.g. in the headdress. This may help to better date the work for sale (which would then be a very early 16th century work), limiting the number of possible named artists. However, other works by Provoost don't really remind me of the one for sale.

Jan Mostaert
Jan Mostaert, ca. 1515-1520 

Master of Frankfurt, detail of Saint Catherine

Joos van Cleve

Better possibilities seem to be some contemporaries like the Master of Frankfurt (1460-1533), Jan Mostaert (1475-1555) or even at a stretch Joos van Cleve (1485-1540), who is probably a bit too late for this.

In summary: this work is probably Flemish, first quarter of the 16th century. Artist and sitter are unknown, but the position of the woman, facing right instead of left, is unusual and may point to some form of independent status. The work has had some damage (overcleaning), but even so the estimate is way too low and even as an anonymous work this should be closer to 5,000 Euro.

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