Portrait of a Man with a Moor's Head on His Signet Ring
Conrad Faber von Creuznach (German, Kreuznach, active by 1524–died 1552/53 Frankfurt)
Oil, gold, and white metal on linden
20 7/8 x 14 1/8 in. (53 x 35.9 cm)
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1912
Not on view
When this portrait appeared at auction in 1911, it was attributed to the Master of the Holzhausen Portraits, named after a group of likenesses of the Holzhausen family of Frankfurt now in the Städel Museum there. Only two years earlier, the master had been identified as Conrad Faber von Creuznach, and his name was applied to this work when the Museum acquired it in 1912. The attribution, which is obvious in light of the clear stylistic consistency with signed portraits by Faber, such as the 1535 pendants Gilbrecht von Holzhausen the Younger and Anna Holzhausen, née Ratzeburg (both Städel Museum, Frankfurt), has never been challenged. Prevailing opinion dates the Museum's portrait in the mid-1530s by comparison with the aforementioned pendants and the 1536 double portrait Justinian von Holzhausen and Anna Holzhausen, née Fürstenberg (Städel Museum, Frankfurt), in which, as Wolfgang Brücker (1963) noted, the type of broadly expansive landscape is closely comparable. The attribution is further supported by the similarity of the damask pattern in black and gray on the sleeves of the sitter in the MMA portrait to that found in the costume of Faber's undated Portrait of a Man of the Straleberg(?) Family in the Städel Museum.
The signet ring bears a Moor's head, a common heraldic device, which has prompted several attempts at identification of the sitter. Friedländer's (1913) suggestion of a member of the Vom Rhein zum Mohren family of Frankfurt was rejected by Beard (1931) and Brücker (1963), both of whom noted that the family's coat of arms lacks a Moor's head. Beard proposed a member of the Nuremberg Schedel family and noted that the apparent date of the painting and age of the sitter place him in the generation of the sons of the humanist Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514). Brücker suggested a Tucher of Nuremberg or, following a proposal made by Zülch (1935), a Schwarzkopf of Frankfurt, which he thought more likely. Both the Schedel and Tucher identifications seem improbable, as the Moor's head in their respective coats of arms lacks the headband clearly depicted in the present work. Moreover, a Moor's head is only part of the Tucher sign, of which the upper half consists of diagonal stripes of black and white. This leaves the Schwarzkopf identification favored by Brücker as the most plausible suggestion. The coat of arms of that family includes the headband, and its members were based in Frankfurt, the locus of Faber's activity. Zülch suggested a Dr. Schwarzkopf (d. 1577), while Brücker thought a Georg Schwarzkopf (undocumented) was possible if the image of Saint George on the sword pommel was meant to be eponymic. As Osten (1966) noted, a privately owned male portrait by Faber of 1530 bears a physiognomic resemblance to the sitter in the Museum's picture, and may represent the same person; yet that work offers no clues of identity. The question of identification remains unresolved.
Faber is known to have used recognizable city views in his landscapes, and the city in the right background of the Museum's painting appears to be Nuremberg. As Brücker noted, the two main churches in the view (right of center and far right, respectively) have the characteristic double towers and raised choirs of Nuremberg's hallmark edifices, the Lorenzkirche and Sebalduskirche. Their positioning in the townscape is generally consistent with a view from the southeast, which was apparently a preferred vantage point, as it was used in Hartmann Schedel's Liber Chronicarum (1493) and later in the first and second volumes of Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg's Civitates Orbis Terrarum (1572, 1575). In Nuremberg, the Lorenzkirche and Sebalduskirche are located on the south and north sides, respectively, of the Pegnitz River, which flows through the center of the city from east to west. The Pegnitz appears in the painting as a thin ribbon of bluish white coming into view above the left edge of the city, at the level of the sitter's chin, and continuing across the left half. Nuremberg's famous castle, located at the old city's northern edge, is not present in this view; it presumably would have appeared in the continuation of the townscape that undoubtedly was present at the left edge of a missing pendant of the sitter's wife. The towering mountain range in the distance is a fanciful addition to the environs of Nuremberg. The city is not necessarily a clue to the sitter's identity, for Faber is known to have used views unrelated to his patrons' place of residence.
[2013; adapted from Waterman 2013]
The panel support is composed of four linden boards with the grain oriented vertically. Each board has developed a slight transverse concave warp. The panel was thinned and trimmed, oak strips .6 centimeters wide were added to the lateral edges, and the painting was cradled. There is a wood insert in the top left corner of the original panel measuring 2.9 by .6 centimeters. The ground preparation is white. Abrasion, aging, and some fading of the pigments have muted the fine detail, particularly in the sitter’s flesh and hair and in the distant background. The deterioration is most apparent in passages executed in brown paint, which has increased in transparency with age. Small losses have occurred along the panel joins and along a split in the lower left corner, numerous repairs have been made in the sky, and a horizontal scratch is apparent between the hands. The artist used atmospheric perspective to create an illusion of depth, painting the landscape in progressively bluer tones as it receded from the picture plane; possibly because a light-sensitive yellow lake pigment has faded, the foliage in the foreground and middle ground is nevertheless quite blue. A portion of the landscape at left, next to the subject’s shoulder, appears to have retained more of the original green color where it was protected from light by the frame. The artist depicted metallic objects in gold and white metal leaf and added fine details in color. For example, he painted the pommel of the man’s dagger over an application of gold leaf, leaving an area of gold in reserve for the medallion, within which he created the image of Saint George Slaying the Dragon using orange red and brown glazes and touches of black. The finger rings he embellished with a very dark blue pigment thickly applied to create the look of a gem in low relief. Details in the signet ring depicting a moor’s head were added over white metal leaf. The fine lines on the gilded collar are painted with brown glazes, and the pattern on the gold cap was created with inscribed lines and lines painted with orange red glaze. Extensive retouching over abrasion on the face made it hard to discern any underdrawing using infrared reflectography. [2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
George Edward Dering, Lockleys, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England (until d. 1911; posthumous sale, Christie's, London, December 16, 1911, no. 66, as "Portrait of a Gentleman," by the Master of the Holzhausen Portraits, for £2,152.10 to Martin); [Frederik Müller, Amsterdam, until 1912; sold to MMA]
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.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Portrait of a Man, by the Master of the Holzhausen Portraits (Conrad Von Creuznach)." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 7 (July 1912), p. 136, ill., notes that the Master of the Holzhausen Portraits has recently been identified with Conrad von Creuznach; mentions that he was influenced by Dürer, to whom the MMA picture was until recently attributed.
Max J. Friedländer. "Conrad Faber: Painter of the Patricians of Frankfort in the Second Quarter of the Sixteenth Century." Art in America 1 (July 1913), pp. 143, 150, no. 32, fig. 1, includes it among a list of portraits he attributes to Faber; identifies the sitter as Georg von [vom] Rhein zum Mohren, a hypothetical name based on the facts that the hilt of the dagger depicts Saint George and the signet ring depicts a Moor's head; notes that Faber painted another member of this family (Musées Royaux des Beaux-arts de Bruxelles).
K. Simon inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Ulrich Thieme. Vol. 11, Leipzig, 1915, p. 149.
C[harles]. R. B[eard]. "Another Re-identified Portrait." Connoisseur 87 (June 1931), pp. 396–97, ill. p. 361, dates it about 1535 based on the costume, and estimates the sitter's age at between forty-five and fifty-five; notes that there is no reason to assume that Faber confined himself to depicting residents of Frankfurt, and that neither the Vom Rhein nor any other patrician family of Frankfurt had a coat of arms with a Moor's head; suggests that the city in the background might be Munich; tentatively identifies the sitter as a member of the Schedel family of Nuremberg, whose arms include a Moor's head, suggesting Sebastian Maria Schedel (born 1494) or one of his three brothers.
Walther Karl Zülch. Frankfurter Künstler, 1223–1700. Frankfurt am Main, 1935, p. 310, proposes identifying the sitter as Dr. Jacob Schwarzkopf, who died in 1577.
Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 51, no. 184, pl. XXXIII, calls it "Portrait of Georg von [sic] Rhein (?)," but notes that the name of the sitter is hypothetical; dates it about 1535.
Emil Waldmann. "Deutsche Kunst in amerikanischen Museen." Der Türmer: Deutsche Monatshefte 39 (January 1937), pp. 298, 300, ill., calls it "Männerbildnis" and suggests that the background city is either Passau or Zürich.
Erna Auerbach. "Conrad Faber, or 'The Master of the Holzhausen Portraits'." Burlington Magazine 70 (January 1937), p. 23, lists it as a portrait of Georg vom Rhein among works dated 1529 and 1533, noting that all the pictures in this group have a large blank space above the sitter's head, an open landscape characteristic of Cranach's early style, and "hands [that] are round and thick".
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 193–94, ill., reject the identification of the sitter proposed by Friedländer [see Ref. 1913]; date the picture about 1525 based on the costume; state that the background cityscape is probably invented.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 396, no. 1056, ill. (cropped).
Important Oil Paintings from the Collection of N. M. Friberg, Stockholm, Sweden, With a Few Additions from Private Collections. Kende Galleries, New York. May 18, 1950, p. 34, under no. 23.
Wolfgang Brücker. Conrad Faber von Creuznach. Frankfurt am Main, 1963, pp. 13, 53, 56–57, 125 nn. 181–82, pp. 146, 186–87, no. 31, fig. 31, dates it about 1535–36, stating that the relatively high level of the horizon is no reason to date the picture to the early 1530s; calls it "Bildnis eines Patriziers mit Mohrenwappen (ein Schwarzkopf?)"; discusses a possible identification with a member of the Schwarzkopf family, but also mentions the possibility that the sitter may be a member of the Tucher family of Nuremberg, noting that although the view is not topographically accurate the churches might be St. Lorenz and St. Sebald in Nuremberg; states that the landscape would have been completed in a pendant, presumed lost.
Gert von der Osten. "Studien zu Conrad Faber von Creuznach." Mainz und der Mittelrhein in der europäischen Kunstgeschichte: Studien für Wolfgang Fritz Volbach zu seinem 70. Geburtstag. Mainz, 1966, pp. 418, 421, fig. 260, calls it "Männerbildnis," noting the various proposed identifications; mentions it in connection with the 1530 portrait of a forty-two-year-old man (fig. 259; formerly Schloß Wernigerode am Harz), but connects it stylistically with the 1535 portrait of Gilbrecht von Holzhausen (Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt).
Peter Klein. Letter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. April 3, 2006, identifies the wood of the panel as linden.
Joshua Waterman inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 118–20, 298–99, no. 26, ill. and figs. 104–5 (color, overall and detail).