Mary, duchess of Burgundy (1457–1482), was the first wife of Emperor Maximilian I, whom she married in 1477. She wears a tall Burgundian hennin, or steeple headdress, characteristic of 1470s fashion. The heavy band of material over her forehead is pinned to the base of the conical headdress by a distinctive agrafe (ornamental clasp). Three necklaces, the most conspicuous of which is made of gold, stand out against the sitter's pale skin. Her features closely match Maximilian's description of his young bride, who had a "snow white complexion, brown hair and gray eyes, pretty and bright … The mouth is rather high, yet clear and red …" The attribution of the Lehman portrait to Master H.A. or A.H. is based on a monogram on the reverse of the panel that, until recent technical investigation, had been hidden beneath a later painting of the Virgin. There are four other similar profile portraits on panel representing the duchess—all probably based on a lost prototype. The Museum's portrait, which dates to the late 1520s, attests to the popularity of images of Mary of Burgundy well after her death. Since the Habsburgs owed their Netherlandish territories to the marriage between Maximilan and Mary, her portrait continued to have historical significance even after Maximilian's death in 1519.
Mary, Duchess of Burgundy (1457 – 1482), the first wife of Archduke Maximilian of Austria, later Holy Roman Emperor, is shown here wearing a gown with a square-cut bodice of gold brocade and laced-on green velvet sleeves. Above the bodice there is a transparent inlay adorned at the neckline with black and gray pearls. A long, diaphanous veil falls from her rose-colored Burgundian hennin, and an elaborate gold pendant with a large rectangular ruby and gray pearls is pinned to its black velvet border. Mary wears two necklaces: one of interlocking gold rings with gold pendants and another of black and gray pearls.
There are five extant profile portraits of the sitter, three in which she faces right (Alte Galerie des Steiermärkischen Landesmuseums Joanneum, Graz; Kisters Collection, Kreuzlingen; and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, Vienna, and two in which she faces left (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, exhibited at Schloss Ambras, no. gg 4402, and the present work). The two in the Kunsthistorisches Museum depict Mary in an interior before a damask curtain, which in one case (gg 4400) is pulled back to reveal a view into a landscape beyond; the other versions all reflect an earlier type with a plain background. These five represent only a small number of the portraits that must have been made of Mary, both during her lifetime and posthumously. Attributed to several artists, they may have been based on a now-lost drawn or painted prototype, although all show slight variations in the sitter’s apparel. The earliest portrait of this group is thought to be the one in the Kisters Collection, dating between 1477 and 1482, followed by the example in Graz, from after 1493, and the Vienna paintings, both from about 1500.
The Lehman portrait was initially attributed to a French master, as well as to Bernhard Strigel and Hans Maler. Maler’s name became associated with several of the portraits of Mary because of documentary evidence indicating that Maximilian, on three occasions in 1500, had requested portraits to be sent to him in Augsburg from a painter in Schwaz. Furthermore, a "Hans from Ulm," whose surname was Maler, was paid for two portraits of Mary in 1510. On this basis, it was suggested that only one artist was being referenced, Hans Maler zu Schwaz. The identification of Hans Maler with Hans Maler zu Schwaz was later questioned, especially since Hans was such a common name at the time in the Tirolean region. In addition, the considerably abraded condition of the work makes any determination of attribution very difficult, and its stylistically conservative, retardataire profile presentation finds few parallels in the works of Hans Maler zu Schwaz.
The attribution question was clarified in 1998, when new X-radiography revealed another image that had been overpainted on the reverse of the panel, a Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, as well as an inscription and date. Further information came to light after most of the overpaint was removed. The monogram on the lower edge of the panel shows the superimposed letters A H or H A and the date 1528, which was already present when the image of the Virgin was added in the late seventeenth or the eighteenth century. Thus, the painting may now be assigned to the Master A.H. or H.A., who was perhaps an artist from the Tirol. The date of 1528 confirms that this is a posthumous portrait of Mary, who died in March 1482. After Maximilian married Mary in 1477, he had continually struggled to secure her Burgundian inheritance while fending off the territorial pursuits of King Louis XI of France. Mary’s untimely death made this even more difficult, as Flemish towns offered considerable resistance to Habsburg rule. The commission and circulation of portraits such as the Lehman example not only kept the memory of this much beloved duchess alive for Maximilian and her subjects but also served, well into the sixteenth century, to underscore Mary’s role as one of the founders of the Habsburg dynasty.
[2016; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
Inscription: Inscribed on the verso at the lower edge of the panel, in light olive paint: H A (or possibly AH) 1528
Hollingworth Magniac, London; his sale, Christie, Manson and Wood, London, 2, 4-8, 11-15 July 1892 (Lugt 50986), lot 73; M. de Villeroy, Paris; his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 28-29 April 1922 (Lugt 83557), lot 29, ill.; sold to [Germain Seligman, New York]; sold to [F. Kleinberger Galleries, New York and Paris]. Acquired by Philip Lehman before 1928.