Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Portrait of a Woman

Barthel Bruyn the Elder (German, 1493–1555)
Oil on oak
Overall, with arched top, 12 x 8 7/8 in. (30.5 x 22.5 cm); painted surface 11 3/4 x 8 1/8 in. (29.8 x 20.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of James A. Moffett 2nd, 1962
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 643
This portrait and its pendant (62.267.1) show an unidentified couple at half length. They have been attributed to Barthel (Bartholomäus) Bruyn the Elder of Cologne since the time of their first publication (Plietzsch 1915). Bruyn appears not to have signed any portraits, and none can be linked to him through documentary sources. Nevertheless, a large body of independent portraits has been established for him through comparison with donor portraits in securely documented retables, such as the high altarpiece that Bruyn completed for Xanten Cathedral in 1534. The large irises, prominent chins, fleshy noses and lips, and high-contrast modeling characteristic of the Xanten portraits are evident in the Museum's pair. Morever, the MMA works compare well in format, style, composition, costume, and attributes with several contemporary portrait pairs that are accepted as the work of Bruyn. The deft and efficient execution further supports a full attribution to Bruyn; it is especially convincing in the modeling and costume details of the female portrait, which is the better preserved of the two.

The sitters wear costume typical of the upper-class citizenry of Cologne, whose members were Bruyn's usual patrons. The woman's exposed hair, visible in braids at either side of her face, indicates that the couple are depicted as engaged, not married, as married women of Cologne wore their hair completely covered. It is likely that the portraits were commissioned to commemorate their engagement. In the context of this work, the carnation in the woman's hand is symbolic of love, betrothal, and marriage.

Material and iconographic evidence suggests that many of Bruyn's portraits with rounded tops were originally attached as folding diptychs, such as his 1528 portraits of Gerhard and Anna Pilgrum (Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne). The reverse of the Anna Pilgrum portrait displays a vanitas allegory that would have been visible when the work was closed for storage. The original frames of other Bruyn portraits have recesses on the sides where hinges were once affixed, and vanitas scenes are found on the backs of several other extant female portraits by him. The Museum's panels lost any evidence of hinge or hanging hardware when they were cut from their original frames. Nevertheless, it can be inferred from the undecorated, black reverses, neither of which was meant to be seen, that the portraits were most likely not conceived as a folding diptych. Rather, they were probably meant to hang side by side as autonomous pendants.

[2013; adapted from Waterman 2013]
A single piece of vertically grained oak that originated in the Netherlands or western Germany was used as the support for this picture and its pendant (62.267.1). Dendrochronological analysis provided an earliest possible fabrication date of 1515 and indicated that the panels were made from the wood of the same tree. Both panels display a very slight convex transverse warp. They are thickly coated with wax on the verso. A round arched top is commonly found in portraits by this painter and his contemporaries. There is unpainted wood and a barbe along the perimeter of both panels, indicating that an engaged frame was in place when the white ground preparation was applied. The unpainted wood border has been slightly trimmed. A lead-white priming visible in the x-radiographs (see Additional Images, fig. 1) was laid down in wide, diffuse brushstrokes, which bear no relation to the painted images.
Overall the female portrait is in good condition. The fine details are intact, including the brocaded band on the bodice, embroidered belt, lace-edged cuffs, headdress, bonnet, and carnation. The paint is thinly applied, but strokes of fuller body were used for small details. Many of the latter were created with precise wet-on-dry brushstrokes. The artist managed to convey the fine details of the clothing with a minimum of brushwork. The backgrounds of both portraits, including the trompe l’oeil shadows cast by the sitter and the frame, were constructed by applying glazes over a bluish green underpaint. The result was probably a richly transparent and modulated green, which over time became a rather opaque, dark greenish brown. Such degradation is common in paint containing copper-green pigments.
The male portrait is less well preserved than its pendant. The thinly applied paint is generally abraded, most seriously in the flesh. The delicate brushstrokes describing the fur trim of the overcoat, which was painted with a translucent, very dark shade of brown, are damaged. Restoration applied to diminish a crack pattern disfigures the face. When the surface of the female portrait is examined with a stereomicroscope, some underdrawing is visible along the left nostril and the right hand. The underdrawing could not be imaged with infrared reflectography on either portrait.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
Inscription: Dated (top): ANNO 1533
?Fra[nciszek?]. Kraszewski; Marcus Kappel, Berlin (by 1915–d. 1919; his estate, 1919–30; his estate sale, Cassirer & Helbing, Berlin, November 25, 1930, nos. 2 [67.267.1] and 3 [62.267.2]; bought in); ?Kappel family, Berlin (from 1930); [Knoedler, New York, until 1946; sold with its pendant for $25,000 to Moffett]; George M. Moffett, Queenstown, Md. (1946–d. 1952); his son, James A. Moffett 2nd, Glen Head, N.Y. (1952–62)
Berlin. Paul Cassirer. "Ausstellung von Werken alter Kunst aus Berliner Privatbesitz," May–June 1915, no. 21 (as "Bildnis seiner Gattin," by Bruyn the Elder, lent by Marcus Kappel).

E. Plietzsch. "Ausstellung von Werken alter Kunst aus Berliner Privatbesitz." Cicerone 7 (1915), p. 214, calls these panels splendid examples of Bruyn's high art of portraiture and his cultivated ability as a painter.

"Kappel and Castiglioni Lots: Treasures to be Sold in Berlin." Illustrated London News (November 15, 1930), p. 887, ill.

Gemälde und Kunstgegenstände aus der Ehemaligen Sammlung Marcus Kappel, Berlin. Paul Cassirer and Hugo Helbing, Berlin. November 25, 1930, no. 3, pl. 3, as the companion to no. 2, a portrait of a man (62.267.1); note that Max. J. Friedländer attributes it to Bruyn the Elder.

Barthel Bruyn, 1493–1555. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Cologne, 1955, pp. 17–18, no. 20 [not in exhibition].

Hildegard Westhoff-Krummacher. Barthel Bruyn der Ältere als Bildnismaler. PhD diss., Universität Bonn. [Munich], 1965, pp. 25, 66, 115, no. 26, ill. p. 118, as in an unknown collection; lists it among Bruyn's female portraits with planar features, reminiscent of the female faces painted by Geertgen tot sint Jans and his circle; comments that Bruyn painted many women holding a carnation, which may be a symbol of marriage or engagement, or even the Passion of Christ.

Joshua Waterman in German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 37–39, 283, no. 6B, ill. (color).

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