This sitter joins his hands in prayer, contemplating what must have been a devotional image on an adjacent panel, now missing. The depiction of the features is very sensitive, particularly the nuanced rendering of the mouth, the age lines of the brow, and the white stubble visible along the contour of the left cheek. The portrait is stylistically similar to works by both Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden; it may have been painted by an artist in Campin's Tournai workshop while Rogier was an influential assistant there.
Although scholars have vacillated on the attribution of this portrait, it is clear that the artist was highly skilled, as demonstrated by the highly nuanced rendering of the sitter’s face. The age of the sitter is emphasized, with particular attention given to the creases around his eyes, the slightly downturned mouth, and the white stubble of his beard. Hulin de Loo (1926) recognized similarities with portraits by both Campin and Rogier van der Weyden, but he does not believe it fits easily in either artist’s oeuvre. Campin did not paint many portraits, but there are some consistencies between this depiction and his few existing portraits, such as the Portrait of a Man and Portrait of a Woman in the National Gallery, London. These characteristics include strong illumination which defines the facial features, a three-quarter turn of the figure, a tightly cropped composition, and a somewhat blank gaze. However, the emphatic three-dimensionality typical of Campin’s portraits is lacking here. Instead, the face is flatter and softer than Campin’s faces, more in keeping with the known work of Rogier van der Weyden. The hands, too, although heavily abraded, are similar to Rogier’s, in their presentation parallel to the picture plane, the slight crookedness of the fingers, and the strongly articulated thumbnail. A possible explanation for the MMA portrait is that it comes from the Campin workshop in Tournai, where Rogier was a prominent assistant, before he left to work in Brussels in 1435 (Ainsworth 1998). The sitter’s attire, indicative of his elite status, was fashionable in the 1430s, and this date is compatible with the dendrochronology of the panel (Klein 2009).
Netherlandish paintings of individuals praying in a particular direction were frequently matched with a panel depicting a devotional object, most often the Virgin and Child. It is possible that this image of a man at prayer was originally paired with a devotional panel placed at the left. The painting has been trimmed slightly on all sides, although a later copy, on copper, in the Pinacoteca Civico Tosio-Martinengo, Brescia, shows the portrait in its uncropped state.
Ivo Francis Walter Bligh, 8th Earl of Darnley, Cobham Hall, Kent (until 1925; sale, Christie's, London, May 1, 1925, no. 49, as "A Man in the Attitude of Prayer," by Memling, for £1,575 to Colnaghi); [Colnaghi, London, 1925–at least 1926; sold to Harkness]; Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Harkness, New York (1927–his d. 1940); Mrs. Edward S. (Mary Stillman) Harkness, New York (1940–d. 1950)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 20.
Frankfurt. Städel Museum. "Der Meister von Flémalle und Rogier van der Weyden," November 21, 2008–February 22, 2009, no. 19.
Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "Der Meister von Flémalle und Rogier van der Weyden," March 20–June 21, 2009, no. 19.
Georges Hulin de Loo. Letter. n.d., believes it to be a very early portrait by Rogier van der Weyden, when still much under the influence of his master, Robert Campin.
Max J. Friedländer. Letter. December 17, 1926, agrees with Hulin de Loo [see Ref. n.d.] that this is by Rogier, painted about 1440, when Rogier and the Master of Flémalle (Campin) stood in very close relation to each other; notes that "the portrait [n.b., field capacity inadequate for entire text].
G. Hulin de Loo. "Robert Campin or Rogier van der Weyden? Some Portraits Painted Between 1432 and 1444." Burlington Magazine 49 (1926), pp. 268, 273–74, ill. opp. p. 268, attributes it to Rogier.
Jules Destrée. Roger de la Pasture—van der Weyden. Paris, 1930, vol. 1, p. 180; vol. 2, pl. 128, in Colnaghi collection, London; tentatively ascribes it to Rogier.
Émile Renders. La Solution du problème Van der Weyden-Flémalle-Campin. Bruges, 1931, vol. 2, p. 80, pl. 51D (detail), in Colnachi [sic] collection, London; attributes it to Flémalle and compares it to a portrait of a man in the National Gallery, London [see Notes], which he attributes to Rogier.
Émile Renders and F. Lyna. "Le Maître de Flémalle, Robert Campin, et la prétendue école de Tournai." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 6 (1931), pp. 289–97.
Charles de Tolnay. Le Maître de Flémalle et les frères van Eyck. Brussels, 1939, p. 49 n. 58, p. 58, no. 11, fig. 25, with Colnaghi, London; calls it an authentic work by Campin, and notes that it appears to be a type of donor portrait similar to that of Judocus Vyd by Jan van Eyck.
Hermann Beenken. Rogier van der Weyden. Munich, 1951, pp. 70, 142, pl. 35, as Stifterbildnis, dated about 1435–45, present whereabouts unknown; attributes it to Rogier, calling it the only donor portrait seeming to belong to his earlier period.
Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, pp. 292, 419 n. 2 (to p. 154), p. 477 n. 4 (to p. 292), p. 479 n. 14 (to p. 294); vol. 2, pl. 221, fig. 361, attributes it to Rogier van der Weyden, noting that it is often ascribed to the Master of Flémalle, and believes it to be cut from a larger composition, as it "gives an uncomfortably crowded, fragmentary impression".
Julius S. Held. "Erwin Panofsky, 'Early Netherlandish Painting, Its Origin[s] and Character'." Art Bulletin. Vol. 37, September 1955, p. 228, doubts that this is a work by Campin.
Colin Tobias Eisler. "New England Museums." New England Museums [Les primitifs flamands, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, vol. 4]. Brussels, 1961, p. 69, describes this portrait as of uncertain authorship, showing Flémallesque influence.
Colin Eisler. "Erik Larsen, Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York, 1960." Art Bulletin 46 (March 1964), p. 101, finds that "it suggests more an essay in the Campinesque manner by a later master than a work by Campin himself or the early Roger [sic]".
Mojmír S. Frinta. The Genius of Robert Campin. The Hague, 1966, p. 78, sees in this portrait an affinity—in the handling of the eyelids, wrinkles, and ear and in the thin application of paint—with a fragment of the head of Saint Joseph (Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon), noting that the latter in its style and the physiognomy has been associated with Campin's art [the Gulbenkian picture is now (2002) generally ascribed to Rogier van der Weyden].
J.-K. Huysmans. Trois primitifs: les Grünewald du musée de Colmar, le Maître de Flémalle et la Florentine du musée de Francfort-sur-le-Main. reprint with added notes [first ed. 1905]. Paris, 1967, p. 124, no. 16, ill., as by the Maître de Flémalle.
Josua Bruyn. Letter to John Walsh. October 3, 1973, observes that it "deserves an attribution to Rogier van der Weyden, and not to Campin".
Josua Bruyn. "The Literature of Art: A New Monograph on Rogier [Review of Martin Davies, Rogier van der Weyden . . ., 1972]." Burlington Magazine 116 (September 1974), p. 541, in a review of Martin Davies, Rogier van der Weyden, 1972, notes that for no stated reason this portrait was omitted from the list of works associated with Rogier.
Peter Klein. Letter to Maryan Ainsworth. May 15, 1991, notes that the wood of this panel originates from the Baltic/Polish region; based on an "earliest felling date" for the tree of 1421 suggests a possible date of creation for the painting of 1437 upwards.
Otto Pächt. Van Eyck and the Founders of Early Netherlandish Painting. Ed. Maria Schmidt-Dengler. London, 1994, p. 77 [German ed. 1989].
Lorne Campbell. "Campin's Portraits." Robert Campin: New Directions in Scholarship. Ed. Susan Foister and Susie Nash. [Turnhout, Belgium], 1996, p. 127, fig. 5, believes the portrait to be by Campin himself, noting that it seems to be part of a half-length diptych, and that comparison with a copy in the Pinacoteca, Brescia [see Notes] suggests that this picture has not been substantially cut down.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Letter to Felix Thürlemann. July 2, 1996, states that the hands are not a later addition, but are painted directly on the ground, with a reserve area in the costume having been left for them; notes that the underdrawing is a "tentative brush or pen contour drawing, having no relationship whatsoever to any of the underdrawing types known in paintings in the Flémalle/Campin group"; adds further that "the x-radiograph shows the broad brushstrokes of an imprimatura and a relatively thin build-up of lead-white for the flesh tones" not consistent with what is known from examination of other Campin group paintings; guesses that the picture is a copy from the mid-sixteenth century or later.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Letter to Felix Thürlemann. April 2, 1997, following recent conservation and removal of disfiguring varnish, notes that this picture "appears to have the layering structure and general characteristics of a work of the fifteenth century, though not of the specific handling of Robert Campin so far as it is known".
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "A Meeting of Sacred and Secular Worlds." From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 146–47, no. 20, ill. (color), comments on the stylistic influence of both Campin and Rogier and calls it the work of a highly accomplished artist in the workshop of Campin while Rogier was an infuential assistant there, or in about 1430–35; notes that this dating is supported by the style of the costume and by the panel's dendrochronology; states that a later copy on copper, of similar size, is in the Pinacoteca Civico Tosio-Martinengo, Brescia.
Felix Thürlemann. Robert Campin: A Monographic Study with Critical Catalogue. Munich, 2002, pp. 327–28, no. III.G.1, ill., lists it among the works of "Students of Robert Campin" and dates it about 1430.
Jochen Sander inThe Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden. Ed. Stephan Kemperdick and Jochen Sander. Exh. cat., Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Ostfildern, 2009, pp. 272, 275, 370, no. 19, ill. p. 276 (color) [German ed., "Der Meister von Flémalle und Rogier van der Weyden," Ostfildern, 2008], attributes it to the "Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (?)" in the second half of the 1430s and finds it remarkably close to the Portrait of a Man in the Borromeo Collection, Isola Bella (cat. no. 18), which he also tentatively ascribes to Rogier's shop.
Peter Klein. "Dendrochronological Analysis of Panel Paintings Belonging to the Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden Groups." The Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden. Ed. Stephan Kemperdick and Jochen Sander. Exh. cat., Städel Museum, Frankfurt. Ostfildern, 2009, p. 163 [German ed., "Der Meister von Flémalle und Rogier van der Weyden," Ostfildern, 2008], based on his dendrochronological analysis of the panel suggests 1429/1437 as the probable date of painting.
A 1/16 in. strip of wood has been added to the panel at the right.
This portrait bears a very strong resemblence to a Portrait of a Gentleman in the National Gallery, London, ascribed to Campin in their 1945 catalogue. Friedländer (Altniederländische Malerei, vol. 2, p. 109, no. 55) and Fierens-Gevaert (Histoire de la peinture flamande, vol. 2, pl. 31) also attribute it to Campin, as does Panofsky (1953, fig. 217).
A copy, presumably after this portrait, is in the Pinacoteca Civica "Tosio Martinengo" in Brescia (see photograph in departmental archives).