This double portrait of a married couple attired as typical German burghers might represent the Augsburg merchant Lorenz Kraffter and his wife, Honesta Merz, whose birthdates (1460 and 1477, respectively) correspond to the sitter’s ages inscribed on the painting in 1512. As double portraits are relatively rare, it is noteworthy that three versions of this painting exist, all attributed to the Augsburg painter Ulrich Apt the Elder and his workshop. The present work, which is considered to be the initial version, most likely was intended for the couple’s private home, while the copies may have been made for family members.
This double portrait represents a man and his wife placed before an off-center window open to a view of a bucolic landscape. "Carved" on the windowsill and wall between them are the ages of the couple—he is fifty-two, she is thirty-five—and the date of the painting, 1512. Relaxed in pose, they regard each other casually and are attired as typical German burghers.
Double portraits are relatively rare, so it is noteworthy that two other nearly identical versions of this painting exist, both attributed to Ulrich Apt the Elder and both in London: one in the Schroder collection and the other in the Royal Collection. Recently, Christoph Metzger (2011) has suggested that the sitters are the prominent Augsburg merchant Lorenz Kraffter and his wife, Honesta Merz, whose birthdates (1460 and 1477, respectively) correspond to the ages of the sitters inscribed on the painting in 1512. The trompe-l’oeil inscriptions, similar to those found on monuments, might denote a commemorative function. However, the rather modest composition and lack of additional signifiers more likely indicate a standard private function, and the copies may have been made for descendants or extended family members. Because the panel was not created as a folding diptych, it is possible that it had a sliding cover, as was the case for other contemporary German portraits.
Hans Memling’s Portrait of an Elderly Couple of about 1470–75 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, and Musée du Louvre, Paris) is a much touted example of early companion portraits shown before an open landscape that was possibly introduced by the expatriate German to his adopted residence in Bruges. Double portraits on one panel had become increasingly popular in Germany in the second half of the fifteenth century. One of the few that includes a continuous landscape is the Wedding Portrait of Lorenz and Christina Tucher by the Master of the Landauer Altarpiece, dated 1484 (Staatliche Galerie, Dessau). It remains an open question whether the landscapes in such portraits had a metaphorical meaning for the sitters, or whether such backgrounds simply came into vogue as an alternative to the more common architectural settings of Augsburg portraits, such as those by Apt’s contemporary Hans Holbein the Elder.
The date on the painting is supported by contemporaneous portraits showing sitters dressed in similar fashion, such as the Portrait of a Lady of about 1512 by an Augsburg painter (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) or the Portrait of Jörg Fischer’s Wife at the Age of 34 (Kunstmuseum Basel), attributed to Hans Holbein the Elder and inscribed 1512. The sitter in Holbein’s Portrait of a Man with a Fur Hat (Kunstmuseum Basel), dated 1513, wears fur-trimmed apparel similar to that of the man in the Metropolitan Museum painting. The attribution question is not as easily answered, particularly since each of the three surviving versions is demonstrably by a different hand. The versions have been confused with each other in the literature since the earliest mention of the Royal Collection painting, which was initially attributed to "some good German painter" and subsequently to Hans Holbein the Younger or to the Swabian School. A close comparison with Apt’s few reliably documented works indicates that the MMA example is the one most clearly by Apt himself. Approximately ten surviving paintings are attributed to the artist and his workshop, and archival sources document the authorship of only two: altar wings depicting a Nativity (Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe) and an Adoration of the Magi (Musée du Louvre, Paris) painted for the Augustinian convent in Heiligkreuz, commissioned by the weavers’ guild, and completed by 1510. A comparison of the sitters in the MMA double portrait with the men of the weavers’ guild in the Louvre Adoration reveals the same straightforward, unidealized presentation that stresses their strength of character and individuality.
Because the three versions of the double portrait match closely, it is possible that they derive from the same workshop pattern. However, a recent study of the technical evidence revealed that the Metropolitan’s example has the most elaborate underdrawing of the three (the other two have little or no apparent underdrawing) and is the only one to show a preliminary black chalk sketch superimposed with brush and ink, as well as adjustments made from the underdrawing to the painted layers. In addition, the underdrawing of the Museum’s version (see Additional Images) is stylistically closest to that found in the Rehlinger Altarpiece, (Staatsgalerie am Schaezler-Palais, Augsburg), signed "Apt" and dated 1517. Given the support of these comparisons, the Metropolitan Museum’s panel may most reliably be attributed to Ulrich Apt the Elder, despite its compromised condition.
[2013; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
The support is a single board of linden with the grain oriented horizontally. It has been trimmed, thinned, attached to a secondary panel support, and cradled. There are small paint losses along several horizontal splits in the panel. In 1936 the reverse of the secondary panel and the cradle were thickly coated with wax. A barbe and a narrow margin of unpainted wood along the perimeter at the left and right and fragments of a barbe along the bottom indicate that the panel was in an engaged frame when the white ground preparation was applied. When the layer structure is examined with the stereomicroscope and x-radiography, a lead-white priming is visible.
The painting is in fairly good condition, although passages are abraded. The flesh in particular has been thinned from harsh cleaning.
Infrared reflectography revealed a rough sketch in a crumbly dark material (probably black chalk) over which a dense black paint or ink was applied with a brush to describe facial details as well as contours of the clothing and architecture. Some minor adjustments were made in the painting phase: the underdrawing shows the woman’s nose with a slightly more pointed tip and her right thumb touching her index finger rather than her middle finger. A gray underpaint was selectively applied beneath the woman’s blue dress.
See Additional Images (figs. 1–2) for infrared reflectogram and x-radiograph.
[2013; adapted fropm German Paintings catalogue]
Inscription: Dated and inscribed: (center) ·15 12·; (on window frame, with ages of sitters) ·52· ·35·
[Steinmeyer, Munich, until 1912; sold to MMA]
Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "Portraits, Figures and Landscapes," January 12–February 4, 1951, no. 1.
Little Rock. Arkansas Arts Center. "Five Centuries of European Painting," May 16–October 26, 1963, unnumbered cat. (p. 12).
"Accessions and Notes." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 7 (August 1912), p. 150, ill.
Bryson Burroughs. Catalogue of Paintings. 1st ed. New York, 1914, p. 7.
C. H. Collins Baker. Catalogue of the Pictures at Hampton Court. Glasgow, 1929, p. 3, attributes the Hampton Court picture to Ulrich Apt, calls the MMA work a repetition of it, and mentions the third example, in a private collection, as another repetition.
Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, pp. 65–66, no. 275, pl. 56, under the entry for the MMA picture, mistakenly includes the provenance for the private collection version.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, p. 198, ill., mentions the other two versions of this portrait, noting that the Hampton Court picture was erroneously attributed to Holbein the Younger.
Ernst Buchner. Das Deutsche Bildnis der Spätgotik und der Frühen Dürerzeit. Berlin, 1953, p. 89 n. 1, cites a 1952 letter from Karl Feuchtmayr comparing the weak modeling of the hand in a "Portrait of a Youth" attributed to Apt (formerly Galerie Harrach, Vienna) with the hands in Apt's 1512 double portrait [does not specify which version].
Alfred Stange. Deutsche Malerei der Gotik. Vol. 8, Schwaben in der Zeit von 1450 bis 1500. Munich, 1957, p. 54, fig. 111 (mistakenly ill. private collection version as ours).
Kurt Löcher. "Studien zur oberdeutschen Bildnismalerei des 16. Jahrhunderts." Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen in Baden-Württemberg 4 (1967), p. 79 n. 42, mentions the MMA portrait, but refers to an illustration of the private collection version.
Gert von der Osten and Horst Vey. Painting and Sculpture in Germany and the Netherlands 1500 to 1600. Baltimore, 1969, p. 108, mention only this version of the painting.
Berthold Hinz. Das Ehepaarbildnis—seine Geschichte vom 15. bis 17. Jahrhundert. PhD diss., Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität zu Münster. Marburg, 1969, pp. 13–14, 81 n. 41.
Alfred Stange. Kritisches Verzeichnis der deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer. Ed. Norbert Lieb. Vol. 2, Oberrhein, Bodensee, Schweiz, Mittelrhein, Ulm, Augsburg, Allgäu, Nördlingen, von der Donau zum Neckar. Munich, 1970, p. 159, no. 739, lists the Hampton Court portrait (no. 740) as a copy of ours.
Berthold Hinz. "Studien zur Geschichte des Ehepaarbildnisses." Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft 19 (1974), pp. 147, 166, 207 n. 49, fig. 28, comments that a double portrait such as this one, like the tradition of the family tree, alluded to the continuation of the family through marriage; notes that it became common for the newly emergent middle class to commission such portraits of themselves.
Paul H. Boerlin. "Hans Holbein d. Ä.: Bildnis eines Herrn mit Pelzmütze, 1513." Pantheon 40 (January/February/March 1982), pp. 36, 39 n. 38, fig. 7, compares the man in this portrait to Holbein the Elder's "Man with a Fur Cap" (Kunstmuseum Basel) and notes the difference between Apt's old-fashioned 'Netherlandish' landscape background and Holbein's depiction of modern Renaissance architecture.
Johannes Wilhelm inAllgemeines Künstlerlexikon: die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker. Ed. Gunter Meissner. Vol. 4, Munich, 1992, p. 590, lists it among works by Apt.
Manuel Teget-Welz. Martin Schaffner: Leben und Werk eines Ulmer Malers zwischen Spätmittelalter und Renaissance. Stuttgart, 2008, pp. 133–34.
Christof Metzger inDürer, Cranach, Holbein; Die Entdeckung des Menschen: Das deutsche Porträt um 1500. Ed. Sabine Haag et al. Exh. cat., Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Munich, 2011, pp. 256–57, under no. 164.
Karen E. Thomas inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 8–9, fig. 2 (infrared reflectogram detail).
Maryan W. Ainsworth inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 16–19, 280, no. 1, ill. (color) and figs. 15–17 (infrared reflectogram details).