Sometime before 1871 the background of this portrait was entirely reworked, and in the process the upper layer of the original background was removed, along with any inscriptions it bore. In the catalogue of the Hohenzollern collection in Sigmaringen, where the painting is first documented, Lehner (1871) identified the background as repainted and noted that an inscription by a later hand on the reverse probably recorded information that had been lost during the reworking. It contained the name and age of the sitter and the artist's monogram and date. This evidence was itself obliterated during the subsequent planing of the panel for cradling. Most likely the original inscription ran along the top edge. The age of thirty-eight given for Katharina Merian, whose existence has not yet been corroborated by other sources, is consistent with her appearance in the portrait. If the recorded date is correct, then she must have been born in 1485 or 1486.
A ligated "HB" monogram like the one recorded on the reverse is found on several similar half-length portraits with green backgrounds also dated in the 1520s. On the basis of stylistic similarities to the portrait of Johann von Otthera of 1536 (private collection), which is signed with the full name of Hans Brosamer, the monogrammed group is widely accepted as Brosamer's work. In 1911 Pauli included the Museum's portrait in this group, an attribution that has since met with unanimous approval. While the assignment of the monogrammed portraits to Brosamer is highly plausible, the unavailability of the fully signed Otthera portrait for firsthand comparative study is cause for some uncertainty.
Several of the portraits with the "HB" monogram depict citizens of Nuremberg. They range in date from the beginning to the end of the 1520s, and from this it may be surmised that Brosamer was active in Nuremberg during that decade. The MMA picture is consistent with the standard compositional scheme of Brosamer's Nuremberg portraits. The likeness of Wolfgang Eisen (Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe), dated 1523, is a typical example and demonstrates also how the lost inscription on the MMA panel must have been placed. In the Museum's picture, the stiffness, linearity, and flatness of design characteristic of this group is even more pronounced because of the faded modeling in the blacks and grays, which has the effect of emphasizing the outline of the figure. Moreover, the repainting of the background obliterated the customary cast shadow, which would have lent greater depth to the painting.
The woman's costume type is documented in other Nuremberg portraits of the time, such as the female likeness in the 1525 portrait diptych of Hans and Barbara Straub by Hans Plattner (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg), in which the dress, jewelry, and hat are all very similar. As Zander-Seidel (1990) pointed out, the hats in these portraits exemplify the type of headdress that in the 1520s replaced the bonnet among patrician women in Nuremberg. The pose and composition of the two works are also strikingly close. Löcher (1967) noted that the portrait of Barbara Straub may be dependent on the MMA work, which probably dates to one year earlier. This strongly supports the idea that the present work originated in Nuremberg, and it underscores the possible significance of Brosamer to portrait painting in that city during the 1520s.
Although no corresponding male portrait is known, this likeness probably accompanied a pendant depicting the sitter's husband.
[2013; adapted from Waterman 2013]
The support is made of three linden boards with the grain oriented vertically. The panel is trimmed on the left and right edges, thinned to approximately .4 centimeters, and cradled. It displays a slight convex lateral warp. Unpainted wood borders and a barbe along the top and bottom perimeter indicate that the panel was in an engaged frame when the white ground preparation was applied. There is a pale pink priming applied on top of the ground. While the paint layers of the figure are in fairly good condition, the copper-containing green glazes in the background were removed and extensively restored with verdigris in oil, probably because the original glazes had discolored. The lead-tin yellow used to underpaint the background was carefully brushed along the contour of the figure with fairly large, loose strokes, visible in the x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 1). The modeling of the face is abraded and has been reinforced with restoration. The diamond pattern decorating the hat is barely visible, perhaps because the paint darkened naturally with age. The gilding of the jewelry, belt, and aglets on the cap was applied to an ocher brown mordant containing a mix of black, red, blue, and earth pigments. In general, the gold leaf is abraded, although the rings and aglets are fairly well preserved. The pendant is made with both gold and a white metal leaf glazed with brown and red glazes. The fifteen-point white metal leaf sunburst is embellished with opaque grayish white strokes of paint. Inspection of the surface with a stereomicroscope revealed summary underdrawing of contours of the chin, jawline, eyes, shoulders, and lips. The underdrawing could not be imaged using infrared reflectography. [2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
Fürsten von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, Meersburg and Sigmaringen; Fürst Karl Anton von Hohenzollern, Sigmaringen (by 1871–d. 1885; cat., 1871, no. 54, inv. 2182, as by HB; cat., 1883, no. 54, as by HB); Fürst Leopold von Hohenzollern, Sigmaringen (1885–d. 1905); Fürst Wilhelm von Hohenzollern, Sigmaringen (1905–d. 1927); Fürst Friedrich von Hohenzollern, Sigmaringen (1927–28 or soon after; cat., 1928, no. 13); Han Coray, Erlenbach, Switzerland (until 1930; his sale, Wertheim, Berlin, October 1, 1930, no. 42, as by Brosamer, to Bottenwieser); [Paul Bottenwieser, Berlin, 1930–at least 1931]; [P. Jackson Higgs, New York, until 1932; sale, American Art Association/Anderson Galleries, New York, December 7–9, 1932, no. 26, for $725 to Fox]; William Fox, New York (from 1932); Mrs. William Fox, New York (until 1942; sale, Kende Galleries, New York, December 1–2, 1942, no. 35, for $750); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (until his d. 1980); The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York, (1980–82)
Frankfurt. Städelsches Kunstinstitut. "Sigmaringer Sammlungen," 1928, no. 13 (as "Weibliches Bildnis," by Hans Brosamer).
New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Treasures and Talismans: Rings from the Griffin Collection," May 1–October 18, 2015, no catalogue.
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
F. A. Lehner. Fürstlich Hohenzollern'sches Museum zu Sigmaringen: Verzeichniss der Gemälde. Sigmaringen, 1871, p. 16, no. 54, inv. no. 2182, ascribes this portrait from Meersburg to a South German painter, noting that the reverse is monogrammed, dated 1524, and inscribed KATHARINA MERIAN AET. 38.
F. A. von Lehner. Fürstlich Hohenzollern'sches Museum zu Sigmaringen: Verzeichniss der Gemälde. 2nd ed. Sigmaringen, 1883, p. 18, no. 54, suggests that the inscription, which he believes to be by a later hand, may originally have been on the front of the panel, noting that this is the case with no. 53, which also bears the HB monogram.
[Gustav] Pauli inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme. Vol. 5, Leipzig, 1911, p. 66, attributes it to Hans Brosamer and calls it a portrait of Kath. Merian from 1524; notes that the inscription, which is not by the artist, was probably cut off the front of the panel and applied to its back.
Franz Rieffel. "Das Fürstlich Hohenzollernsche Museum zu Sigmaringen: Gemälde und Bildwerke." Städel-Jahrbuch 3–4 (1924), p. 64, fig. 59, questions Pauli's [Ref. 1911] attribution to Brosamer, noting that this portrait's plainness keeps it from attaining the power of this "modest artist".
Sascha Schwabacher. "Erwerbung des Sigmaringer Museums für Frankfurt." Der Cicerone 20 (July 1928), pp. 455–56, mentions it as "Bildnis einer Frau" by Brosamer.
Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 90, no. 410, as "Portrait of Catherine Merian" by Brosamer.
Irene Kunze. "Der Meister HB mit dem Greifenkopf: Ein Beitrag zur Brosamer-Forschung." Zeitschrift des Deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft 8 (1941), pp. 233–35, fig. 28, attributes this portrait to Brosamer and associates it with portraits of Wolf Fürleger, 1527 (formerly German art market), S. Haller, 1528 (North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh), and Christoph Haller, 1529 (formerly collection Pannwitz, The Netherlands), all of which are inscribed with the monogram "HB," the date, and the sitters' names and ages across their tops; states that these surnames, including Merian, belong to recorded families in Nuremberg and comments on the South German characteristics and the influence of Cranach in these portraits.
Irene Kühnel-Kunze. "Hans Brosamer und der Meister HB mit dem Greifenkopf: Ein weiterer Beitrag zur Brosamer-Forschung." Zeitschrift für Kunstwissenschaft 14 (1960), pp. 74, 77–78, relates it to a "Portrait of a Woman in White Dress and Velvet Hat" of 1527 (Private collection, Kreuzlingen, Switzerland), also attributed to Brosamer.
Kurt Löcher. "Nürnberger Bildnisse nach 1520." Kunstgeschichtliche Studien für Kurt Bauch zum 70. Geburtstag von seinen Schülern. Ed. Margrit Lisner and Rüdiger Becksmann. Munich, 1967, pp. 120–21, fig. 5, notes that this painting influenced Hans Plattner's 1525 portrait of Barbara Straub (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg).
Kurt Löcher. "Ein Bildnis der Anna Dürer in der Sammlung Thyssen-Bornemisza." Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 39 (1977), p. 87, fig. 6, includes this painting in a discussion of the Nuremberg tradition of portraiture, influenced by Cranach and characterized by cool, frontal portraits with bold, ornamental outlines; notes that in the case of both Cranach and his followers this style would often detract from the liveliness and individuality of the portrayal.
Katharine Baetjer inThe Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, pp. 107–8, no. 39, ill. (color), calls this painting attributed to Brosamer; notes that the inscription recorded by Lehner [Refs. 1871, 1883] is no longer visible, and that it could not have been cut from the front of the canvas because the top edge of the panel is original.
Jutta Zander-Seidel. Textiler Hausrat: Kleidung und Haustextilien in Nürnberg von 1500–1650. Munich, 1990, p. 131, fig. 121.
Karen E. Thomas inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, p. 13, fig. 11 (color detail).
Joshua Waterman inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 34–36, 282–83, no. 5, ill. (color).