Portrait of a Man, ca. 1470–75
Circle of Hugo van der Goes (Netherlandish, active by 1467, died 1482)
Oil on paper laid down on wood; 8 3/4 x 6 1/2 in. (22.2 x 16.5 cm)
Purchase, 2009 Benefit Fund, Hester Diamond Gift, Victor Wilbour Memorial Fund, Mary Harriman Foundation and Friends of European Paintings Gifts, Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund, Marquand and Charles B. Curtis Funds, and University Place Foundation Gift, 2010 (2010.118)
The extraordinary quality and condition of this keenly affecting portrayal of an old man place it among the finest examples of early Netherlandish portraiture. Furthermore, paintings in the fragile technique of oil on paper laid down on wood rarely survive. Rather than being cut down from a larger composition, the tightly edited image was probably planned as an independent portrait. The painter may have found it practical to continue to work up in paint a likeness that he had already begun as a drawing on paper.
Closely observed and meticulously rendered in the manner of early Netherlandish painting, this portrait also conveys a psychological intensity and objective realism that relate it to the work of Hugo van der Goes. In its subtle illumination and attentive modeling, it is similar to male faces in Hugo's religious works, especially the Monteforte and Portinari altarpieces of about 1470 and 1473–78. Indeed, the costume of the sitter—a purple robe with a fur collar and a deep green chaperon, or hat, with trailing cornets at the sides—dates to about 1470–75. Independent portraits by Hugo are extremely rare, and further investigations will help to situate this splendid example in its proper place within the context of Netherlandish portraiture.