Hugo van der Goes produced some of the most celebrated altarpieces of the Northern Renaissance. The heightened realism of this portrait, especially the emerging beard, is a hallmark of his work. By setting the man’s head against a dark interior, next to a bright window, the artist creates a dramatic contrast of light and shadow that accentuates the modeling of the facial features. The portrait was later cut into an oval shape from a rectangular panel, which probably formed part of a devotional triptych. The sitter’s gaze is directed toward the missing religious painting, his hands joined in eternal prayer.
Hugo van der Goes (d. 1482) was the most noted painter in Ghent in the latter part of the fifteenth century. He was frequently engaged for producing decorations for civic celebrations and official processions, but is most famous for his large altarpieces, especially the Portinari Altarpiece (ca. 1473–78) painted for the hospital church of Sant Egidio in Florence. The majestic Adoration of the Shepherds and Adoration of the Magi (both Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) and the Death of the Virgin (Groeningemuseum, Bruges) additionally comprise the core group of his oeuvre.
No known independent portraits by Hugo have survived, and his efforts in this genre must be judged by donor portraits in devotional diptychs and triptychs, such as the left wing of the Saint Hippolytus Altarpiece, whose central and right panels are by Dieric Bouts (Groeningemuseum, Bruges), the Portinari Alarpiece, and the Trinity Panels (National Gallery Scotland, Edinburgh). The Met’s Portrait of a Man is probably the cut-down fragment of a devotional triptych.
Even in its fragmentary state, the present portrait asserts a bold presence and a decisive strength of character. These powerful effects are in part due to the depiction of the subject from below, as if he is in a superior position vis-à-vis the viewer. They are also the result of the setting off of the illuminated head against the dark stone wall and the introduction of a dramatic chiaroscuro that accentuates the modeling of facial features so that they appear to be chiseled out of stone. It is perhaps these characteristics, as well as the impression given by the hands and background when they were overpainted, that at first prompted scholars to assign this portrait to Antonello da Messina (see Burroughs 1923).
The stark realism of Hugo’s approach, which depicts the swarthy tones of the man’s face, his emerging beard, and his roughened hands joined in prayer, enhances the sense of fervent devotional piety conveyed by the sitter. Similar treatments appear in the donor portrait of Hippolyte de Bertohoz on the left wing of the Saint Hippolytus Altarpiece and the head of Edward Bonkil on the exterior right wing of the Trinity Panels. These panels are placed about 1475 and 1473–78, respectively, and a corresponding date of about 1475 for the Museum’s painting is therefore most likely.
The oval shape of the MMA portrait is not original; it was cut down from a rectangular support, and a damaged triangular piece of the sky in the landscape view was replaced. The pose of the unknown bourgeois sitter, facing to the right in an attitude of prayer, and his concentrated gaze suggest that a devotional image, perhaps a half-length Virgin and Child, was once at the right of the portrait. A likeness of the man’s wife may have been placed at the right of the object of his veneration, balancing his image and forming a conventional triptych.
[2015; adapted from Ainsworth 1998]
[Signol, Paris; until 1878; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 1–3, 1878, no. 10, as by Antonello da Messina; for Fr 10,000 to Beurnonville]; Étienne Martin, baron de Beurnonville, Paris (until 1881, sale, Charles Pillet, Paris, May 9–16, 1881, no. 603, as by Antonello da Messina, for Fr 33,000 to ? Mame); Paul Mame, Tours (until 1904; sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, April 26, 1904, no. 1, as by Antonello da Messina for Fr 50,000 to Havemeyer); Mr. and Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, New York (1904–his d. 1907); Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer, New York (1907–d. 1929)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Loan Exhibition of the Arts of the Italian Renaissance," May 7–September 9, 1923, no. 37 (as by Antonello da Messina, lent anonymously).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The H. O. Havemeyer Collection," March 10–November 2, 1930, no. 61 (as "Portrait of a Man," by Hugo van der Goes, formerly attributed to Antonello da Messina) [2nd ed., 1958, no. 32].
Exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles. "Cinq siècles d'art," May 24–October 13, 1935, no. 37.
Paris. Musée de l'Orangerie. "De van Eyck à Bruegel," November–December 1935, no. 45.
Princeton University. "Exhibition of Belgian Medieval Art," June 17–23, 1937, no. 8.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 95.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27–June 20, 1993, no. A290.
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. 30.
Catalogue des tableaux anciens et modernes . . . composant la collection Mame de Tours. Galerie Georges Petit, Paris. April 26, 1904, no. 1, ill. opp. p. 40, as Portrait of a Man by Antonello da Messina; suggest the sitter wears the habit of a religious order; note that according to the catalogue of the 1881 Beurnonville sale, Signol is said to have purchased the picture in Italy.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Loan Exhibition of the Arts of the Italian Renaissance." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 18 (May 1923), p. 109, as by Antonello da Messina.
Max J. Friedländer. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. August 22, 1929, attributes this portrait to Hugo van der Goes; notes that the panel was not originally an oval.
Georges Hulin de Loo. Letter to Bryson Burroughs. October 23, 1929, based on a photograph ascribes this portrait to Hugo van der Goes.
Frank Jewett Mather Jr. "The Havemeyer Pictures." The Arts 16 (March 1930), pp. 455, 457, 479, ill., as by Hugo; suggests it was the wing of a diptych subsequently cut down to its present oval shape.
H. O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Sculpture and Objects of Art. n.p., 1931, p. 34, ill., as by Hugo van der Goes.
Bryson Burroughs. "Un portrait inédit attribué à Hugo van der Goes." Mélanges Hulin de Loo. Brussels, 1931, pp. 71–73, pl. 10, guided by opinions solicited in 1929 from Hulin de Loo and Friedländer, attributes the portrait to Hugo van der Goes before 1475; notes that the hands, window, and landscape, discovered during cleaning, are restored, and that recent x-rays show extensive damage in the hands and landscape.
Hans Tietze. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935, p. 333, pl. 130 [English ed., "Masterpieces of European Painting in America," New York, 1939, p. 317, pl. 130], dates it about 1470.
Leo van Puyvelde. "Two Exhibitions at Brussels: I.— Flemish Primitives at the International Exhibition." Burlington Magazine 67 (July–December 1935), p. 84, pl. B, ascribes it to Jan Gossart; notes that the costume is that of a prosperous burgher, not a monk; compares the collar shape to that in Van der Weyden's Portrait of Meliaduse d'Este [i.e. Francesco d'Este, MMA 32.100.43].
Max J. Friedländer. "Eine Zeichnung von Hugo van der Goes." Pantheon 15 (January–June 1935), pp. 103–4, ill., calls it a fragment of an altarwing.
Paul Fierens. "Cinq siècles d'art a l'exposition de Bruxelles." L'art et les artistes, n.s., 30 (March–July 1935), pp. 295, 300, ill.
Exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles. Cinq siècles d'art: Mémorial de l'exposition, Bruxelles 1935. Brussels, 1935, vol. 1, pl. XVIII, comments on the similarity of this head to certain masculine types in the Portinari Altarpiece (Uffizi, Florence) and to the donor presented by Saint John the Baptist (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam [now Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore]).
Introduction by Paul Jamot Preface by Paul Lambotte inDe Van Eyck à Bruegel. Exh. cat., Musée de l'Orangerie. [Paris], 1935, p. 35–36, no. 45, ill., attribute it to Hugo van der Goes.
Cinq siècles d'art: Exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles 1935. Exh. cat., Exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles. Brussels, , vol. 1, p. 19, no. 37.
Introduction by Paul Lambotte preface by Paul Colin in Musée de l'Orangerie. L'art flamand [de van Eyck à Bruegel]. Paris, 1935, p. 11, pl. 27.
J[acques]. Lavalleye in "De vlaamsche schilderkunst tot ongeveer 1480." Geschiedenis van de vlaamsche kunst. Ed. Stan Leurs. Antwerp, 1936, p. 214.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 14, Pieter Bruegel und Nachträge zu den früheren Bänden. Leiden, 1937, p. 93, pl. 16, as by Hugo van der Goes.
Karl Oettinger. "Das Rätsel der Kunst des Hugo van der Goes." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s., 12 (1938), p. 60 n. 13, sees it as "perhaps a faithful reproduction of an original by Hugo, if not the original itself".
J. B. Knipping inEen reeks monografieën over hollandse en vlaamse schilders. Vol. 1, part 1, Vijftiende en zestiende eeuw: Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, Van der Goes, Bosch, Van Leyden, Van Scorel. Amsterdam, , pp. 32, 39, ill., as probably the fragment of a religious narrative.
Charles de Tolnay. "Hugo van der Goes as Portrait Painter." Art Quarterly 7 (Summer 1944), pp. 183–84, 187–89 n. 10, fig. 2, as an original by Hugo, which may be placed chronologically between the Monforte Altarpiece [Gemäldegalerie, Berlin] and the Portinari Altarpiece [Uffizi, Florence].
Jacques Lavalleye. Le portrait au XVme siècle. Brussels, 1945, p. 23, pl. 23, dates it about 1475.
Robert Rey. Hugo van der Goes. Brussels, 1945, p. 30–32, pl. 27, suggests an attribution to Antonello da Messina or a follower at the very end of the 15th century
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 57–58, ill., as by Van der Goes no later than 1475; suggest that it is a fragment of the left half of a devotional diptych, in which the donor prays to the Virgin in the opposite panel; notes that the hands, window, and landscape were recently uncovered beneath overpaint.
Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 226, no. 95, colorpl. 95.
Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, p. 479 n. 16 (to p. 294), p. 499 n. 1 (to p. 332), ascribes it to Hugo and considers it, along with the portrait of a donor with Saint John the Baptist (Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore), as fragments of larger compositions.
Leo van Puyvelde. La peinture flamande au siècle des van Eyck. Paris, 1953, p. 223, questions the attribution to Hugo van der Goes.
Julius S. Held. "Erwin Panofsky, 'Early Netherlandish Painting, Its Origin[s] and Character'." Art Bulletin. Vol. 37, September 1955, p. 232, supports Panofsky's attribution of our painting to Hugo van der Goes.
Valentin Denis. Hugo van der Goes. [Brussels], , p. 30, dates it after the Portinari Altarpiece; notes that portraits of donors are uncommon in Van der Goes' work before 1474.
Max J. Friedländer. Early Netherlandish Painting: From van Eyck to Bruegel. Ed. F. Grossmann. English ed. [first ed. 1916]. New York, 1956, fig. 102.
Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 68, 117–18, fig. 16, as by Van der Goes; considers it a fragment possibly of the right side of a diptych.
Friedrich Winkler. Das Werk des Hugo van der Goes. Berlin, 1964, pp. 57–58, ill., as an autograph work, dating from before or around 1475, probably the fragment of an important larger composition.
Charles D. Cuttler. Northern Painting from Pucelle to Bruegel. New York, 1968, pp. 159–60, ill., dates it about 1475, the period of the Portinari altarpiece or very slightly earlier; notes that although the type derives from Bouts's "Portrait of a Man" of 1462 [National Gallery, London], its structure is more plastic.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 4, Hugo van der Goes. New York, 1969, pp. 85, 108 n. 134, Supp. 110, pl. 106.
Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 210 [rev., enl. ed., 1989].
Lorne Campbell. Letter to Mary Sprinson. February 13, 1979, calls it "very close in style to the generally acknowledged works of Hugo"; finds it most similar in style to the donor portrait of Hippolyte de Berthoz in Bruges [St. Hippolytus Altarpiece, Cathedral of Saint Sauveur, Bruges].
Colin Thompson. Letter to Mary Sprinson. March 16, 1979, calls it "close to Hugo's work" and suggests that "it might be by him"; dates it around the time of the Monforte altarpiece; suggests that the panel might be the right side of a diptych with a holy image on the left side; assumes that the oval shape is a much later "improvement".
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 193, 197, fig. 359, dates it before 1475.
Lorne Campbell. Unpublished text for MMA Bulletin. 1981, dates it to the early 1470s.
B. de Patoul et al. Hugo van der Goes (1430/40–1482): L'homme et son oeuvre. Brussels, 1982, p. 24, no. 20, ill.
Claudia Gianferrari, ed. Metropolitan Museum, New York. Milan, 1983, p. 41, no 28, ill.
Guy Bauman. "Early Flemish Portraits, 1425–1525." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 43 (Spring 1986), pp. 49, 62, ill. (color), places it in the early 1470s; considers it probably the left wing of a devotional triptych with the Virgin and Child as a central panel, and perhaps a portrait of the sitter's wife on the right.
Introduction by James Snyder inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Renaissance in the North. New York, 1987, pp. 32–33, ill. (color).
Robert A. Koch, Selected by Guy C. Bauman, and Walter A. Liedtke, Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke inFlemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, pp. 72–73, no. 15, ill. (color), based on this panel suggests that Hugo van der Goes may have preceded Memling in placing the figures in his devotional diptychs in a localized setting rather than in the abstracted ones of Rogier van der Weyden.
Jochen Sander. Hugo van der Goes: Stilentwicklung und Chronologie. Mainz, 1992, pp. 127–34, figs. 50–52 (black and white restored state; prior to restoration; x-radiograph) and colorpl. 24, dates it 1475 or soon thereafter; compares it to the portrait of Edward Bonkil depicted on the exterior right wing of the Trinity Panels (National Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland); believes it more than likely that the landscape background as well as the sill were added by a later, weaker hand in an attempt to improve upon the composition; notes that x-radiography shows that the hands of the sitter and the column in the corner were not part of the original composition.
Louisine W. Havemeyer. Sixteen to Sixty: Memoirs of a Collector. Ed. Susan Alyson Stein. 3rd ed. [1st ed. 1930, repr. 1961]. New York, 1993, pp. 20, 310 n. 38.
Maryan W. Ainsworth inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 54, colorpl. 55.
Susan Alyson Stein inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 237.
Gretchen Wold inSplendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, p. 343, no. A290, ill.
Hans Belting and Christiane Kruse. Die Erfindung des Gemäldes: Das erste Jahrhundert der niederländischen Malerei. Munich, 1994, p. 235, no. 184, ill. (color), suggest that the sitter is a representative of the Italian merchant colony in Flanders, as his costume is Mediterranean in style.
Mark L. Evans. "Jochen Sander, Hugo van der Goes: Stilentwicklung und Chronologie, 1992." Burlington Magazine 136 (September 1994), p. 624.
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. 68, 74, 141, 170–72, no. 30, p. 181, ill. (color), dates it about 1475.
Paula Nuttall et al. in Till-Holger Borchert. The Age of Van Eyck: The Mediterranean World and Early Netherlandish Painting, 1430–1530. Exh. cat., Groeningemuseum, Bruges. Ghent, 2002, p. 211, ill. (color).
Catheline Périer-d'Ieteren. Dieric Bouts: The Complete Works. Brussels, 2006, p. 351, fig. A7d (color), compares the head to that of Hippolyte de Berthoz (in the left wing of the triptych of the Martyrdom of Saint Hippolytus, Museum van de Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, Bruges), which may have been painted by Hugo van der Goes after Bouts's death.
Catheline Périer-d'Ieteren inL'héritage de Rogier van der Weyden: La peinture à Bruxelles 1450–1520. Ed. Brigitte de Patoul and Beatrijs Wolters van der Wey. Exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels. Tielt, 2013, p. 71, fig. 45 (color).