Barthel Beham and his older brother Sebald were renowned as printmakers as well as painters. They were active in Lutheran Nuremberg until 1525, when they were banished for opposing the Reformation. Barthel subsequently moved to Catholic Munich to serve as court painter to the Bavarian dukes William IV and Ludwig X. The sitter of this arresting portrait, Leonhard von Eck, was Chancellor to William IV and a powerful opponent of the Reformation. An engraving after this portrait is inscribed with Leonhard von Eck's name, his age (forty-seven), and the artist’s initials, with the date 1527.
The identification of this portrait is based on an engraving (MMA 1981.1087) bearing the initials of Barthel Beham that also provides the name of the sitter, his age (forty-seven), and the date, 1527. Although the print is much smaller than the painting and shows the figure facing left instead of right, the head and shoulders in each work are very similar. In a second state of the engraving, a fur coat and wide-brimmed beret were added.
Leonhard von Eck was born into a noble family in Bavaria and studied law both in Germany and Italy. In 1519 he became chancellor to Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria, who was the patron of Barthel Beham. Ambitious, explosive, and strong-willed, von Eck opposed the Reformation and fervently supported the Wittelsbach cause against the Hapsburg monarchs. Beham, influenced by the radical ideas of Thomas Müntzer, also opposed the Reformation. In addition, he refused to acknowledge the validity of the mass, baptism, and the Scriptures; as a result, he and his brother Sebald were arrested and imprisoned in Nuremberg in January 1525. They were subsequently expelled from the city, but were allowed to return ten months later. Barthel departed Nuremberg for good in 1527 to serve as court painter in Munich to the Catholic dukes Wilhelm and Ludwig X of Bavaria. Both the 1527 engraving of von Eck and the painted portrait must have been produced shortly after Beham settled in Munich.
The close connection between the painting and the engraving provides support for the attribution to the artist. Kurt Löcher (1999) observed that the painting is convincing on the whole but not in its execution. However, this opinion does not take into account the considerably abraded condition of the painting, the subsequent loss of a subtler modeling and a more informed sense of volume in the face, and the fading of the purplish color of the costume.
The comparison of Beham’s print to the painting has led some scholars to question which came first. Gábor Térey (1925) and Hans Tietze (1935) held that the painting provided the basis for the print, but Löcher (1967, 1999) maintained the opposite, noting that the print is more sharply defined and closer to the model. Again, the latter opinion does not take into account the compromised state of the painting. Tietze and Nadine Orenstein (1997) are most likely correct in proposing that both print and painting were based on a now-lost drawing by the artist. The underdrawing (see Additional Images) appears to confirm this: although the execution, probably in black chalk, shows searching lines drawn freehand to secure the desired contours, it is generally confident and steady, as if following a preexisting preparatory study.
Beham’s move from Nuremburg to Munich led to numerous commissions for portraits, including the present work. Even though there is no documentation that he studied with Dürer in Nuremberg, the latter’s influence is certainly felt in these early portraits. Beham’s engraving of von Eck, in particular, is indebted to Dürer’s 1524–26 engravings of notable political and religious figures, such as Friedrich the Wise, Willibald Pirckheimer, and Philipp Melanchthon. Beham may also have been influenced here by half-length painted portraits by Dürer in which the figures fill the space and are turned at a slight angle to the picture plane, including The Artist’s Father of 1497 (National Gallery, London), the Self-Portrait of 1498 (Museo del Prado, Madrid), and Maximilian I of 1519 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). But by the time Beham began to employ this composition, it had already become a tradition in Bavarian and Swabian portraiture, as a number of examples show. Beham helped to establish it further in works such as the MMA panel, as well as in later companion portraits, including those of Ruprecht and Ursula Stüpf of 1528 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid) and Ludwig X of Bavaria (Liechtenstein Collections, Vaduz-Vienna) and Ursula von Weichs of 1531 (National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa).
[2013; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
The support is made of two spruce boards, with the grain oriented vertically. It has been thinned and cradled, resulting in washboarding of the surface plane. There are several short splits extending into the composition from the top and bottom as well as a more prominent defect along the central join, which has been broken and repaired.
The paint surface is abraded. There are many small losses throughout and a wide area of repair along the panel join extending from the collar through the hand. Two diagonal scratches appear on the left side of the face; one extends from the eye to the nose, the other from the earflap through the mouth.
Infrared reflectography (see Additional Images, fig. 1) revealed rough sketching-in of the full composition in what appears to be a dry medium. Outlines of the clothing, the fabric folds, and contours of the facial features and hands (including the deep wrinkles of some knuckles) are visible in the reflectogram. Some contours appear as two lines parallel to each other, one very fine, the other more emphatic. To the right of center, a scrolling pattern of curved lines extends the height of the panel. As this pattern bears no relationship to the portrait, and the x-radiograph shows no evidence of it having been painted, the lines may be part of an image originally intended for the panel but not carried out.
Examination with the stereomicroscope revealed that the overshirt was painted with a combination of pigments: lead white, a red lake, black, and a small amount of fluorite, a transparent purple pigment mined in several areas of Germany, including locations near Nuremberg and Munich. Although not widely reported in technical studies, fluorite has been identified in several paintings from southern Germany and the Tyrol; its use by Beham is not surprising since his paintings are known for their colorful palette. At present, the fluorite lends a slight grayish purple cast to the white overshirt; however, the color may have originally been more emphatic because its red lake component has faded and the panel has suffered from abrasion.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
[Louis Gottschalk, Berlin (until d. by 1896; posthumous sale, Rudolph Lepke's, Berlin, January 12–13, 1897, no. 50)]; Eduard F. Weber, Hamburg (by 1898–until 1912; sale, Rudolph Lepke's, Berlin, February 20–22, 1912, no. 57; sold to Douglas); [R. Langton Douglas, London, 1912; sold to MMA]
W. v. Seidlitz inAllgemeines Künstler-lexikon. Ed. Julius Meyer et al. Vol. 3, Leipzig, 1885, p. 313, as by Beham, in a Berlin private collection; remarks that von Eck appears younger here than he does in Beham's print; notes that the painting is abraded.
Max J. Friedländer. "Altdeutsche Gemälde in der Sammlung des Freiherrn von Lotzbeck in München." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 18 (1895), p. 274, questions the attribution to Beham, without having seen the painting [see Ref. Friedländer 1912].
Gemälde alter Meister der Sammlung Weber, Hamburg. 2nd ed. Leipzig, , pl. 61, as "Portrait of a Man" by Beham in the Weber collection, Hamburg.
Gustav Pauli. "Barthel Beham in seiner künstlerischen Entwickelung." Graphischen Künste 28 (1905), pp. 41, 44, considers it one of Beham's best portrait paintings; remarks that it corresponds so closely to the 1527 print that it can be dated to the same year and is surely by the same hand; notes that von Eck appears older in the engraving due to strong contrasts of light and shadow in the modeling.
Karl Woermann. Wissenschaftl. Verzeichnis der älteren Gemälde der Galerie Weber in Hamburg. 2nd ed. Dresden, 1907, p. 54, no. 57, lists it as "Portrait of a Man" by Beham, but questions the attribution, commenting that it may continue under his name until a different attribution is found.
G. Pauli inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme. Vol. 3, Leipzig, 1909, p. 192.
Emil Waldmann. Die Nürnberger Kleinmeister. Leipzig, 1910, p. 77, calls Beham's portraits his strongest works, mentioning this one in particular; notes, however, that von Eck was such a striking character that a lesser artist would probably have succeeded in producing an arresting portrait of him.
Gustav Pauli. Barthel Beham: Ein kritisches Verzeichnis seiner Kupferstiche. Strasbourg, 1911, p. 58, under no. 94, mentions this painting in relation to the first state of the print.
Emil Schaeffer. "La vendita della collezione Weber a Berlino." Rassegna d'arte 12 (April–May 1912), p. 76, finds this "severe and penetrating" portrait superior to other works by Beham.
Max J. Friedländer. Letter to R. L[angton]. Douglas. March 3, 1912, calls it perhaps the best painted portrait by Beham, based on the 1527 engraving.
Bryson Burroughs. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Catalogue of Paintings. 6th ed. New York, 1922, p. 13, as "Portrait of a Man (Leonardt von Eck or Johann Mayr von Eck)".
Gabriel de Térey. "Two Portraits by Barthel Beham in New York." Art in America 13 (October 1925), pp. 308–9, 314, confirms the sitter's identity based on the prints; calls the first state of the engraving a reproduction of the painting.
A. L. Mayer. "Barthel Beham als Bildnismaler." Pantheon 11 (January–June 1933), p. 1, observes a "striving for monumentality" in this portrait which finds its ultimate expression in Beham's portrait of Ruprecht Stüpf [Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid].
Hans Tietze. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935, p. 339, pl. 210 [English ed., "Masterpieces of European Painting in America," New York, 1939, p. 323, pl. 210], notes that either this painting or a preparatory drawing for it served as the basis for the 1527 print.
Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 57, no. 216.
Emil Waldmann. "Deutsche Kunst in amerikanischen Museen." Der Türmer: Deutsche Monatshefte 39 (January 1937), pp. 300, 302–3, ill. p. 299, calls it the most beautiful portrait Beham ever painted.
Ludwig von Baldass. "Zur Bildniskunst der Dürerschule: II. Die Bildniskunst des Jörg Pencz und Bartel Beham." Pantheon 26 (November 1940), p. 258, mentions this painting as a precursor to Beham's introduction of the three-quarter length portrait to Germany in 1528, in the companion portraits of Ruprecht and Ursula Stüpf [Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid].
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 192–93, ill.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 388, no. 1029, ill. p. 389, refers to the sitter's hat as a "judicial coif".
Jean Muller. Bartel Beham: Kritischer Katalog seiner Kupferstiche, Radierungen, Holzschnitte. Baden-Baden, 1958, p. 18 under no. 75, mentions it in relation to the first state of the print.
Kurt Löcher. "Studien zur oberdeutschen Bildnismalerei des 16. Jahrhunderts." Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen in Baden-Württemberg 4 (1967), p. 50, believes the painting probably follows the 1527 print.
Gert von der Osten and Horst Vey. Painting and Sculpture in Germany and the Netherlands 1500 to 1600. Baltimore, 1969, pp. 231–32, pl. 215, call it Beham's earliest "dated" portrait and note that when it was painted Durer had just made his engraving of Erasmus, which directly effected Beham's [first state] of the print.
Gert von der Osten. Deutsche und niederländische Kunst der Reformationszeit. Cologne, 1973, p. 251, fig. 207.
Denys Sutton. "Robert Langton Douglas, Part III, XIV: Agent for the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 109 (June 1979), p. 423, fig. 25, notes that Douglas bought this portrait at the Weber sale in 1912, and that Friedländer had spoken highly of the painting.
Gisela Hopp inKöpfe der Lutherzeit. Exh. cat., Hamburger Kunsthalle. Munich, 1983, p. 74 under no. 19, fig. 14, discusses the two prints as having followed this painting.
Isolde Lübbeke. Early German Painting, 1350–1550: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. London, 1991, p. 404, calls it the first portrait executed by Beham in Munich, which prompted portrait commissions from Duke Wilhelm IV and "the patriciate".
Rainhard Riepertinger inBauern in Bayern. Ed. Michael Henker. Exh. cat., Herzogschloss Straubing. Munich, 1992, pp. 96–97, no. 65, ill. (color), provides biographical information for von Eck.
Peter Strieder. Tafelmalerei in Nürnberg, 1350–1550. Königstein, 1993, pp. 155, 280–81, no. 162, fig. 605, notes that this commission indicates that Beham was already advancing within the ducal court of Munich.
Christiane Andersson. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. October 27, 1996, observes that the sitter's cross-armed pose—which seems very informal compared with other German Renaissance portraits—and his absence of outer wear, suggest a private function for the portrait.
Alison Stewart inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 3, New York, 1996, p. 507, remarks that in this picture Beham used the Italianate half-length format of Dürer's engraving of Erasmus "reputedly for the first time in a German painted portrait"; calls it typical of his portraits of the middle and upper classes.
Nadine M. Orenstein in "The Print in the North: The Age of Albrecht Dürer and Lucas van Leyden." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 54 (Spring 1997), p. 49, notes that this painting and the first state of the print were probably based on a now-lost drawing.
Kurt Löcher. Barthel Beham: Ein Maler aus dem Dürerkreis. Munich, 1999, pp. 71–72, 187–88, no. 6, fig. 69 (color), maintains that this painting is based on the first state of the print [see Ref. Löcher 1967], suggesting that the position of the sitter was reversed to face a pendant portrait of von Eck's wife; finds the painting's execution unconvincing and questions the attribution to Beham.
Karen E. Thomas inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, p. 10.
Maryan W. Ainsworth inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 26–28, 281, no. 3, ill (color) and fig. 27 (infrared reflectogram).