The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
Not on view
This half-length portrait dated 1538 shows a man forty-five years of age (as indicated by the inscription). Among the several rings adorning his left hand is a signet ring bearing an unidentified coat of arms with a sunburst and initials in mirror image that appear to read "MLD." The sitter's black cap with earflaps indicates that he was a scholar; the "D" in his initials may refer to a doctoral degree. Citrus fruits like the orange in his hands were luxury items at the time and could convey social distinction in portraits; in the Christian context they bore connotations of purity, fertility, and eternal life—meanings that could carry over into secular portraiture. If this portrait had a female pendant, which is quite possible, the orange as a symbol of fertility would have been especially appropriate.
This portrait appeared in two dealers' exhibitions in New York in the late 1920s (see Exhibition History), where it was attributed to Lucas Cranach the Elder. In 1932, Friedländer and Rosenberg recognized a divergence from the style of Cranach himself and attributed this portrait along with four others to the Master of the Masses of Saint Gregory (Master der Gregorsmessen), a painter from Cranach's studio who worked extensively for Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg. The Museum's own attribution from 1947 had been to the Cranach workshop. Isolde Lübbeke (Early German Painting, 1350–1550: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, London, 1991) has pointed out significant stylistic differences between the eponymous paintings of the Master of the Masses of Saint Gregory and the group of portraits that includes this one. Maintaining rightly that the "exaggerated plasticity" of the Mass of Saint Gregory pictures is inconsistent with the style of the portrait group, she reassigned the latter, to which she added further examples, to an anonymous painter in Cranach's circle. Technical examination of the Museum's work shows furthermore that some aspects of the paint layering, for example in the curtain and the finger rings, are uncharacteristic of standard practices of the Cranach workshop.
The group of portraits to which this panel belongs now consists of at least ten known works (listed in Waterman 2013, p. 292 n. 18) spanning the second quarter of the sixteenth century, which show a remarkable consistency of style and composition. Although the artist was clearly influenced by the style of Cranach, portraits produced by the Cranach workshop exhibit a greater variety of pose, expression, and motifs. As Lübbeke noted, the almost unwavering adherence to a strict formula suggests a painter operating independently of Cranach.
Without exception, the sitters in these works strike a rigidly upright pose. Their hands are almost always crossed one over the other, but rarely are they actually folded together. The expressions tend to be wide-eyed and vacuous. Frequently, as in the Museum's portrait, the garments are fastened at the neck with black bows. In the earliest works, a green curtain covers the whole background; from 1528 onward, the curtain is pulled aside to reveal a landscape. The artist's treatment of forms initially displayed a certain smoothness and softness, which in the 1530s gave way to a harder, more severely linear style. In the Museum's portrait, which belongs to the later period, the impression of hardness and flatness is exaggerated by extensive abrasion of the paint layers.
The artist responsible for these portraits appears to have remained active within the regional orbit of Cranach, for the one identified sitter in the group is the University of Leipzig professor Heinrich Stromer. The unidentified painter may have had a career comparable to that of Antonius Heusler, who, after presumably training under Cranach, established himself independently in the mining town of Annaberg, in Saxony, in 1525.
[2013; adapted from Waterman 2013]
The support consists of three alder boards with the grain oriented vertically. An engaged frame was in place when the white ground was applied. Along the perimeter are unpainted wood borders, an incised line, and the remains of a barbe. The dimensions of the panel, which has been thinned and cradled, are close to Heydenreich Format C. The painting’s condition is poor. It is severely abraded throughout from harsh cleaning. Along the edges of the cracks in the thinly painted flesh and sky, the paint has been removed down to the ground layer. There are large losses and repairs in the costume and several scratches in the face and hands. While the painting technique is typical of the period, it is not entirely characteristic of Cranach’s workshop. For example, the trees are executed in a systematic manner somewhat similar to the workshop’s practice, but the green curtain is not. The rings were not executed using the workshop’s usual techniques. Examination of the inscription with a stereomicroscope revealed coarse yellow particles that display a structure characteristic of the pigment orpiment. Similar particles are also present in the chain, orange, rings, and embroidered collar. The presence of orpiment was confirmed with analysis. Examination of the painting with magnification and x-radiography revealed the white ground and what may be a layer of priming containing lead white; however, that slightly radio-opaque layer does not display the typical horizontal banding that has been observed in paintings from the Cranach workshop. Infrared reflectography did not detect any underdrawing or compositional changes. [2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
Inscription: Dated (top): MDXXXVII
[Lindemann, Vienna, in 1927]; [Rothschild Bros., London, 1928]; James C. Cabey (1928; sold to Kleinberger); [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, 1928–30; sold for $16,000 to Friedsam]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1930–d. 1931)
New York. Kleinberger Galleries. "Loan Exhibition of German Primitives," November 1928, no. 32 (as "Portrait of a Nobleman," by Lucas Cranach the Elder, lent by F. Kleinberger Galleries).
New York. Van Dieman Galleries. "Exhibition of Paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)," November 18–December 5, 1929, no. 23 (as "Portrait of a Man Before a Green Curtain," by Lucas Cranach the Elder).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
"Early German Paintings at Kleinberger's." Art News 27 (November 3, 1928), pp. 1–2, ill., as "Portrait of a Nobleman".
Frank Jewett Mather Jr. "An Exhibition of German Primitives." Arts 14 (December 1928), p. 310, calls it "the portrait of a dull or moody (one is not sure which) nobleman".
"Early German Exhibition at Kleinberger's." Art News 27 (November 10, 1928), p. 5, as dated 1537; calls it "arresting" and "superb".
[Frank E. Washburn] F[reund]. "Sammler und Markt: Vom New Yorker Markt." Der Cicerone 21 (1929), p. 333, ill. p. 326, as "Bildnis eines Edelmannes"; gives the date as 1536.
Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg. Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach. Berlin, 1932, p. 98, no. 367, ill., include it in a group of four portraits that they tentatively attribute to an artist they call the Meister der Gregorsmessen (Master of the Mass of St. Gregory), after the painter of a work of that subject in the Staatsgalerie, Aschaffenburg; read the date as 1537.
Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 44, no. 144, calls it "Portrait of a Bearded Man," and notes Friedländer and Rosenberg's [see Ref. 1932] attribution to the Master of the Mass of St. Gregory.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 206–7, ill., state that it was probably "painted by one of the less able assistants working in Cranach's shop"; read the date as 1537.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 396, no. 1055, ill., as School of Cranach; dates it 1535.
Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg. The Paintings of Lucas Cranach. rev. ed. Ithaca, N.Y., 1978, pp. 161–62, no. sup 17, ill.
Andreas Tacke. Der katholische Cranach: Zu zwei Großaufträgen von Lucas Cranach d.Ä., Simon Franck und der Cranach-Werkstatt (1520–1540). Mainz, 1992, pp. 62–63, identifies the Master of the Mass of St. Gregory as Simon Franck, a painter believed to have been attached to Cranach's workshop, and attributes the MMA painting to him.
Joshua Waterman inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 88–90, 292, no. 19, ill. and fig. 71 (color, overall and detail).