Michel SITTOW (Reval c. 1468 – 1525/6)
Portrait of a man with a rosary
oil on panel, thinned, backed with a secondary panel, and cradled
The Portrait of a Man with a Rosary is a typical and particularly fine example of portrait painting in the Low Countries in the first half of the sixteenth century. While slowly incorporating influences of contemporary Italian and German painting during the early decades of the sixteenth century, Flemish artists like Quentin Metsys, Joos van Cleve or Jan Gossaert simultaneously looked back at normative portrait conventions in the Netherlands that had originally been established by Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden in the 1430s. After the turn of the century, the neutral background of early portraiture once again became popular, even when, in previous decades, painters such as Petrus Christus, Dieric Bouts and Hans Memling had increasingly represented their clients in front of lavish interiors or idyllic landscapes.
The revival of the monochrome background in Netherlandish portraiture in the years after 1500 coincided with an increased demand for portrait representations – of religious and secular character – that was no longer restricted to the aristocracy but also included the upper bourgeoisie in the Netherlandish cities. One of the earliest surviving examples made at the turn of the century is Gerard David’s Portrait of a Goldsmith (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) : Slightly smaller than the Portrait of a Man with a Rosary, David’s sitter casts a simple shadow on a plain monochrome background. Like David’s Vienna Goldsmith, the Portrait of a Man with a Rosary still adheres largely to the portrait conventions that were established by Van Eyck. It lacks the elaborate and refined cast shadows that are characteristic features of later portraits by Joos van Cleve and Jan Gossaert and therefore was most likely produced at the beginning of the evolution outlined above, at about 1520, rather than towards its end around the middle of the century.
The panel with its arched top depicts an unknown man whose advanced age is witnessed by graying curls of thin hair as well as meticulous wrinkles that cover his entire face and become strikingly visible around his neck. The anonymous sitter of the panel is represented as a half-length bust in front of a dark green background, his face depicted in customary three-quarter-profile with his head therefore slightly turned towards the left. The old man, who holds the beads of a rosary in both hands and seems to be praying, appears to be situated behind an imaginary parapet that seems to coincide with the frame of the picture. The portrait displays both of the sitter’s hands, suggesting that they would rest on the imaginary parapet, with several fingers reaching beyond the pictorial plane into the reality of the beholder. This illusionistic motive, a trompe-l’oeil that was originally introduced at the time of Van Eyck, had become a standard feature of Netherlandish portraiture in the sixteenth century. In order to satisfy the expectations of his clients, even an artist of such standing as Al
with Julius Böhler, Munich, before September 1920.
with P. Cassirer, Berlin, by 1922, as “B. van Orley”; from where acquired by
Richard Weininger, Prague, Berlin, Augsburg and later London, 15 November 1922.
Julius Priester, Vienna, as “Bernard an Orley” or “P van Orley”.
Confiscated following the Austrian Anschluss in March 1938.
Sale; Christie’s, London, 8 December 1972, lot 26, as “Barend van Orley” (bought in).
Sale; Christie’s, London, 19 July 1973, lot 140, as “Barend van Orley” (bought in).
Herbert R. and Lorraine Mandel, Greenpoint, Long Island.
Their estate sale; in situ, Greenport, Long Island, 7 August 2010; from where acquired by
Private Collection, U.S.A.
Sale; Christie’s, New York, 26 January 2011, lot 118, as “Attributed to Michel Sittow”.
Restituted to the heirs of Julius Priester, 2012.
(Possibly) Wakefield City Art Gallery, on loan, late 1938-1945, as “Portrait of a Man with Red Beads by Bernard van Orley, oil painting, 12 ¾ x 8 ¾ in.”