Bernhard Strigel belonged to a successful family of artists in the South German town of Memmingen. In the first two decades of the sixteenth century, he produced a number of portraits like this one, depicting elegantly dressed women positioned before a decorative textile hanging with an open window view out to a landscape. The sitter in this portrait has not been identified, but her elaborate costume, with its imported fabrics and ostentatious jewelry, places her among the elite echelons of society.
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Fig. 1. Infrared Reflectogram detail
Fig. 2. X-radiograph
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This portrait was among the first paintings to enter The Met with the 1871 purchase, the foundation of the new museum’s collection. At that early date, it had been attributed to Christopher [sic] Amberger and was thought to have come from the collection of Count Samuel von Festetits. In 1872, in the first catalogue of The Met’s collection, the painting was given to Lucas Cranach the Younger. From an etching (Jacquemart 1871), Stiassny (1892) recognized it as by Bernhard Strigel. He considered it a late work, comparable to the artist’s Empress Mary of Burgundy(?), in the Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck, and Empress Bianca Maria Sforza, then in a private collection in Munich. The Met's portrait was mentioned in the first major article on Strigel’s oeuvre by Weinzinger (1914), who proposed no date for it. Thereafter, this attribution has remained undisputed, most scholars assigning it to the last period of Strigel’s life, from about 1525 to 1528. Only Stange (1957) maintained an early date, around 1503, offering stylistic comparisons with Hieronymus Haller of the same date (Alte Pinakothek, Munich).
Although portraits of women facing left often have male pendants facing right, no candidates of the proper size or with matching window views and steep windowsill angles have surfaced for this painting. There are two remaining examples of portrait pairs by Strigel, the Portrait of a Man and Portrait of a Woman of about 1515–17 (Liechtenstein Collections, Vaduz-Vienna) and Margarethe Vöhlin and Hans Roth of 1527 (National Gallery of Art, Washington). These display his typical compositional presentation: a man and woman facing each other, with a continuous landscape view through a shared window opening placed at the inside center of each painting, and a richly colored brocade fabric hanging behind each figure. In these examples the placement of the windowsills parallel to the picture plane indicates a common space. In the Museum’s painting, however, the sharply angled sill that would separate it optically from any pendant suggests that it may have been an independent portrait.
There are unfortunately no obvious clues to the identity of the sitter, only that her elaborate and costly attire places her among the elite echelons of society. In fact, the portrait stands as an important document of German high fashion and taste in the first part of the sixteenth century.
Although the Portrait of a Nobleman (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart) of about 1500 shows the same wall hanging as here, the popularity of these patterns over a long period of time requires additional criteria to be used for the dating of The Met's portrait. Comparable attire is found in the 1502–3 portrait of Anna Cuspinian by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Each sitter wears a dress with a large-scale pattern, black velvet trim, and a low-cut bodice over a blouse embroidered with a similar design. Albrecht Dürer’s Felicitas Tücher (Kunstsammlung Weimar) of 1499 shows Felicitas with the same-shaped, although exaggerated, headdress with an overlying veil cascading over the woman’s shoulder to her midsection. Hans Holbein the Younger’s Dorothea Kannengiesser of 1516 (Kunstmuseum Basel) also features the same type of dress, heavy gold chains, and Haube (hood) with fabric tail.
Usually dated to the first decade or two of the sixteenth century, Strigel’s earlier portraits of ladies in extravagant dress positioned the sitter, as here, before a decorative brocade hanging with an open window view out to a landscape. Among these are the previously mentioned portraits of Mary of Burgundy and Bianca Maria Sforza as well as depictions of Eve von Schwarzenberg, Sibylla von Freyberg (both Alte Pinakothek, Munich), and a lady of Freyberg (Schauffhausen). The richly colored palette of The Met’s painting, especially the rosy flesh tones and dense, fully blended brushstrokes of the face suggest a date around 1510–15.
[2014; adapted from Ainsworth in Ainsworth and Waterman 2013]
The panel support is a single board of linden, with the grain oriented vertically. There are two tiny wooden repairs in the top corners of the unpainted border. The panel has been thinned and cradled. In 1936 its reverse and the cradle were thickly coated with wax.
The presence of an unpainted wooden border and a barbe around the perimeter indicates that the white ground preparation was applied when an engaged frame was in place. When the edge of the barbe is examined with the stereomicroscope, a pink priming is visible on top of the ground.
Traces of gold leaf and an orange bole, extending slightly below the painting along the perimeter, are visible with magnification. These are fragments of the gilding of the original engaged frame, which was carried out before the portrait was painted.
Examination of the surface with magnification revealed underdrawing visible through the paint in the eyes, eyelashes, eyebrows, chin, and right side of the necklace. Infrared reflectography (see fig. 1 above) clarified some of the underdrawing, including the iris of the left eye, which was drawn slightly closer to the nose. Individual eyelashes on the lower lids were also revealed.
Overall, the painting is in good condition, although some passages exhibit slight abrasion. There are microscopic losses, particularly in the darkest portions. The artist employed a meticulous painting technique, paying close attention to details of the clothing, jewelry, and view from the window. The flesh is smoothly blended, but numerous details of the textiles and jewelry are created with crisp brushstrokes in a thicker paint that imparts a low relief. The elaborate pattern of the dress has been achieved with a solid understanding of how this fabric would actually wrap around a form. Some of the green glazes appear to have turned brown with age owing to a degradation commonly observed in paint containing copper-green pigments. A hint of the originally vibrant green of the brown border on the left side of the cloth in the background is preserved at its perimeter. The mottled transparent brown glazes on the red dress may also be discolored green glazes.
The veil falling from the patterned hood was painted at a late stage in the process. The thin, translucent, cream-colored paint was scumbled across the hood, shoulder, background, and window frame when those passages of paint were already dry.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
?Samuel von Festetits, Vienna; [Léon Gauchez, Paris, with Alexis Febvre, Paris, until 1870; sold to Blodgett]; William T. Blodgett, Paris and New York (1870–71; sold half share to Johnston); William T. Blodgett, New York, and John Taylor Johnston, New York (1871; sold to The Met)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Taste of the Seventies," April 2–September 10, 1946, no. 52.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fashion and Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520–1620," October 20, 2015–January 10, 2016, no catalogue.
Jules-Ferdinand Jacquemart. Etchings of Pictures in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. London, 1871, pl. , as by Lucas Cranach the Younger.
Catalogue of the Pictures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, No. 681 Fifth Avenue, in the City of New York. [New York], 1872, p. 48, no. 121, as by Lucas Cranach the Younger; states that it came from the collection of Count Festitics [sic] and that it was erroneously attributed to Christopher Amberger.
"The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Harper's New Monthly Magazine (May 1880), ill. p. 869, as "A Flemish Lady," by Lucas Cranach.
F[ritz von]. Harck. "Berichte und Mittheilungen aus Sammlungen und Museen, über staatliche Kunstpflege und Restaurationen, neue Funde: Aus amerikanischen Galerien." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 11 (1888), p. 73, mentions it as a mediocre work of the Nuremberg school.
Rob[ert]. Stiassny. "Bildnisse von Bernhard Strigel." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, n.s., 3 (1892), pp. 257, 260 n. 1, ill. p. 259 (after Jacquemart etching), attributes it to Bernhard Strigel and dates it to his late period, comparing it with a portrait of a woman [Mary of Burgundy?] in the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck, and a portrait of the Empress Maria Blanka formerly in the collection of Graveur Seitz, Munich; calls it the pendant to a portrait of a man in a private collection, Vienna (now Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid).
W. Bode. "Alte Kunstwerke in den Sammlungen der Vereinigten Staaten." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, n.s., 6, no. 1 (1895), p. 18, attributes it to Strigel.
Catalogue of the Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1905, p. 164, no. 69, as by Strigel.
F. X. Weizinger. "Die Maler-Familie der 'Strigel' in der ehemals freien Reichsstadt Memmingen. . . Anhang: Hans Maler von Ulm, tätig in Schwaz in der 1. Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts." Festschrift des Münchener Altertums-Vereins zur Erinnerung an das 50 Jähr. Jubiläum. Munich, 1914, pp. 129, 144, no. 39, attributes it to Strigel and dates it between 1516 and 1528.
Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 63, no. 257, pl. LI, attributes it to Strigel and dates it about 1525; does not connect it with the Thyssen picture, identifying a work formerly with the dealer Miethke in Vienna as the pendant to that painting.
[Julius] Baum inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 32, 1938, p. 189, lists it as by Strigel and dates it between 1520 and 1528.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, p. 197, ill., call the "bland and empty modeling" and "exaggerated use of . . . costume details" characteristic of Strigel's style; note that the conception is similar to his superior portrait of Mary of Burgundy (Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck); date it to the artist's last years on the basis of costume and style.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 390, no. 1034, ill., dates it about 1515.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 93.
Alfred Stange. Deutsche Malerei der Gotik. Vol. 8, Schwaben in der Zeit von 1450 bis 1500. Munich, 1957, p. 147, mentions it as by Strigel; places it among works painted in 1502 and 1503.
Gertrud Otto. Bernhard Strigel. Munich, 1964, pp. 77, 106, no. 82, fig. 149, rejects the idea [see Ref. Stiassny 1892] that this work and the Thyssen picture are pendants.
Alfred Stange. Deutsche Spätgotische Malerei: 1430–1500. Königstein, 1965, ill. p. 77, dates it about 1510.
Edeltraud Rettich. Bernhard Strigel: Herkunft und Entfaltung seines Stils. PhD diss., Albert-Ludwigs-Universität. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1965, pp. 16, 96 n. 9.
Alfred Stange. Kritisches Verzeichnis der deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer. Ed. Norbert Lieb. Vol. 2, Oberrhein, Bodensee, Schweiz, Mittelrhein, Ulm, Augsburg, Allgäu, Nördlingen, von der Donau zum Neckar. Munich, 1970, p. 211, no. 929.
Isolde Lübbeke. Early German Painting, 1350–1550: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. London, 1991, p. 376 n. 3, rejects the idea that the Thyssen and MMA pictures are pendants [see Ref. Stiassny 1892].
Nicolas Bassée with an introduction by Kathleen Epstein inGerman Renaissance Patterns for Embroidery: A Facsimile Copy of Nicolas Bassée's "New Modelbuch" of 1568. Austin, Tex., 1994, p. 19, fig. 6.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 217, ill., as "Portrait of a Woman".
Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 173, 197, 213, 245, appendix 1A no. 121, ill. p. 213 and figs. 27 and 35 (installation photograph).
Peter Klein. Letter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. April 3, 2006, identifies the wood of the panel as linden.
Maryan W. Ainsworth in Maryan W. Ainsworth and Joshua P. Waterman. German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 224–27, 317–18, no. 52, ill. (color).
Femke Speelberg. "Fashion & Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520–1620." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 73 (Fall 2015), pp. 25–26, 47 n. 54, fig. 26 (color).
Old Masters Evening Sale. Sotheby's, London. December 6, 2017, p. 22, under no. 5.
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