This is one of two known copies after Conrad Faber von Creuznach's portrait of a man of about 1526–29 in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels. The other copy, in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, is in oil on copper and probably dates to the late sixteenth century. The three paintings are of approximately the same size. No female pendant is known to exist for any of the versions.
The identification of the sitter derives from an inscription on the reverse of the Frankfurt copy. The inscription, which appears to be contemporary with the picture, gives the name "Philipp vom Rhein zum Mohren," with a birth date of 1477 and a death date of 1538, changed from 1536 in an underlying but still legible version. Brücker (1963) noted that the inscription conflates the names of Heinrich vom Rhein zum Mohren (1477–1536) and Philipp vom Rhein zum Lindwurm (1484–1537). The two sobriquets "Zum Mohren" and "Zum Lindwurm" are Hausnamen, referring to the houses the brothers inhabited in Frankfurt. Heinrich vom Rhein was a member of Frankfurt's city council, held deputy mayoral office in 1508, and stepped down from his council seat in 1519; Philipp vom Rhein became a council member in 1530. Heinrich's life dates correspond better than do Philipp's to the ones given in the Frankfurt inscription. Also, unlike Philipp, whose only offspring died in childhood, Heinrich had progeny for whom portrait copies could have been made, for example, in divisions of estates. In this light, as Brücker and also Brinkmann (2005) concluded, the sitter is probably Heinrich vom Rhein zum Mohren.
Successive cleanings of the Museum's picture have considerably thinned its paint layers. Comparisons of photographs dating from the periods of ownership of Viscount Lee (in 1937) and N. M. Friberg (by 1949) with the portrait today revealed a gradual diminishment of details, in some cases approaching obliteration, as in the figures (formerly) on the bridge at the left and the windows on the house at the right, which are, as Baetjer (1984) pointed out, detectable at present only with the aid of a microscope. Presumably the cleanings also changed the overall appearance by reducing surface layers throughout, essentially flattening the volume of the figure and the depth of the landscape.
Opinion has divided over whether the Museum's picture is an autograph replica by Faber or the work of an anonymous copyist. In support of Faber's authorship, Baetjer acknowledged the painting's weaknesses in comparison with the original in Brussels but maintained that they are mostly due to the compromised condition, not the stilted hand of a lesser copyist. She dated the picture in the late 1520s in accord with the likely date of the original. For Brücker, however, the copy's deficiencies ruled out Faber's authorship. He noted the less precise rendering of the pomander and ring, the misunderstood form of the arched gateway at the top end of the road at the left, and the awkward downward turn of the road at the right. Brücker also pointed out the omission of the traveler and dog present in the Brussels original in the road at the right (also omitted, but not noted by Brücker, is the lower one of two buttons on the proper right sleeve opening of the coat). The missing figures appear not to have been casualties of overcleaning, for they are absent even in the aforementioned photograph from the Lee collection that shows long-lost details. Brücker thought that the Museum's copy possibly dated before 1550.
A look beneath the surface of the copy adds support to Brücker's doubts about Faber's authorship. X-radiographs of signed and otherwise securely attributed portraits by Faber reveal that the artist applied lead white to faces in a very generalized manner. In contrast, the x-radiograph (see Additional Images) of the Museum's copy reveals a localized distribution of lead white that conforms to the facial features. In addition, infrared reflectographic examination of Faber's underdrawings has shown that his normal practice was to apply only the most sparing contours. In contrast, the MMA portrait is plentifully underdrawn with contours and hatching. It seems unlikely that Faber, were he copying his own work, would employ underdrawing that went far beyond his normal requirements. Finally, the MMA portrait is painted on oak, a type of wood otherwise unknown in Faber's oeuvre. With the exception of one extraordinarily large full-length portrait on a conifer panel, all of Faber's supports for which wood identification has been undertaken are linden. These significant anomalies in material and technique suggest that the Museum's picture is not an autograph replica by Faber; rather, it appears to be the work of a competent early copyist.
The Brussels original is thought to date about 1526–29, based on stylistic similarity to securely dated portraits of those years. Dendrochronological analysis of the oak support of the MMA work indicated an earliest possible fabrication date of 1522 or later; thus, the copy could well have been made soon after the original, although the dendrochronological result does not rule out a significantly later date. As Brücker rightly noted, the copy's manner of execution still appears to belong to the first half of the century, unlike the late-sixteenth-century copy in Frankfurt. A date range of about 1530–50 therefore seems likely.
[2013; adapted from Waterman 2013]
Two boards of vertically grained oak that originated in western Germany were used as the support for this painting. Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible fabrication date of 1512. The panel has been thinned to .5 centimeters and cradled. There is a thin coating of wax on the panel and cradle. Unpainted borders and a barbe around the perimeter indicate that an engaged frame was in place when the ground preparation was applied. X-radiography (see Additional Images, fig. 1) revealed holes from nails (now removed) inserted in the end grain along the top and bottom edges. A crescent-shaped deformation in the left corner of the subject’s black hat was caused by a knot in the wood panel.
The paint layers are generally abraded. A prominent craquelure throughout the painting, primarily oriented in the direction of the wood grain, has been suppressed with retouching. Abrasion in the beard and fur cape has given an amorphous appearance to those passages. Remnants of white and pale yellow-ocher brushstrokes describing the beard give a hint of the original finish, which is now lost.
The cap, pomander, and finger ring are embellished with gold leaf. An orange mordant is visible in the cap and ring where the gold leaf is abraded. The pattern in the cap is painted with a dense black, and the gold filigree on the pomander was created with a brown glaze. The portions of the pomander that imitate silver are painted rather than gilded.
Examination with a stereomicroscope revealed a very thin buff-colored priming on top of a white ground preparation. The priming contains a warm red pigment. Infrared reflectography (see Additional Images, fig. 2) revealed underdrawing: there is curved hatching in the cheeks, eye sockets, bridge of the nose, and lips, as well as basic contours describing the facial features, hat, ears, and hairline. Contours of the hands and cuffs are also visible. The artist drew several lines as he searched for the final shape of the subject’s left thumb. Landscape elements were also sketched in and quite faithfully followed in the paint.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
?Viscount Lee of Fareham, White Lodge, Richmond, Surrey (in 1937); N. M. Friberg, Stockholm (by 1949?–50; sale, Kende Galleries, New York, May 18, 1950, no. 23, as "Portrait Presumed to be Philipp vom Rhein zum Mohren," by Faber von Creuznach, for $1,500); [John Mohnen, Del Mar, Calif., from 1950]; Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (until his d. 1980); The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York (1980–82)
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
Erna Auerbach. "Conrad Faber, or 'The Master of the Holzhausen Portraits'." Burlington Magazine 70 (January 1937), pp. 15–16, 19, 23, pl. IB (Lee version), attributes the Lee version to Conrad Faber or to an unknown, possibly Rhenish, painter, and dates it about 1525; identifies the sitter as "probably a member of the Holzhausen family, perhaps Philip vom Rhein zum Mohren"; discusses the Brussels, Frankfurt, and Lee versions of this portrait, stating that "it is difficult to say which of these versions, if any, is the original," though adding that the Frankfurt picture has always been accepted as an early copy and that the Lee and Brussels pictures are very similar.
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, pp. 34–35, no. 23, ill., mentions the Lee version as a separate work from the one included in the Friberg sale.
Wolfgang Brücker. Conrad Faber von Creuznach. Frankfurt am Main, 1963, pp. 24–25, 112 nn. 79–81, pp. 146, 148, 156, nos. 4a–4b, fig. 51 (Friberg version), lists the Lee and Friberg versions as two separate works, identifying the latter as having been with the dealer John Mohnen in Del Mar, California, in 1950, and previously in a private collection in Stockholm in 1949, but without mentioning Friberg or his sale; is uncertain whether the Lee version is an old copy after the original in Brussels or an autograph replica; calls the Friberg version an old but not autograph repetition and the Frankfurt version a copy; dates the Brussels picture about 1526–29 and the Friberg version to the sixteenth century and perhaps before 1550; discusses the identity of the sitter, deciding that he is either Philipp vom Rhein zum Lindwurm (1484–1537) or, more probably, his brother, Heinrich vom Rhein zum Mohren (1477–1536).
Hans-Joachim Ziemke. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. October 26, 1983, considers the Brussels picture as the original and believes that copies dating from a later time and not by Faber were probably made during the distribution of an estate; sees the Frankfurt and probably also the MMA versions as such copies, although this is a tentative opinion without having seen the MMA work itself; does not think the MMA and Friberg versions can be the same picture, since he sees slight differences between the two.
Wolfgang Brücker. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. December 11, 1983, identifies the MMA picture with the Friberg version and concedes that it may also be the same as the Lee version; dates the MMA work to the sixteenth century but does not think it is by Faber himself.
Hans-Joachim Ziemke. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. December 19, 1983, after study of detail photographs of the Friberg version made in 1949 at the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, agrees that the Friberg and MMA pictures are identical; believes that there are probably only three versions of this portrait: Brussels, Frankfurt, and Lee/Friberg/Mohnen/MMA.
Katharine Baetjer in The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, pp. 105–6, no. 38, ill., calls it "an autograph replica of the Brussels portrait" and dates it to the late 1520s.
Bodo Brinkmann in Deutsche Gemälde im Städel, 1500–1550. Mainz, 2005, pp. 340–41, fig. 282, calls the Frankfurt and MMA versions copies after the original in Brussels, for which he accepts Brücker's dating of about 1526–29; identifies the MMA picture with the Lee version; favors an identification of the sitter as Heinrich vom Rhein zum Mohren.
Joshua Waterman in German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 121–24, 299, no. 27, ill. (color) and figs. 107 (x-radiograph detail), 108 (infrared reflectogram detail).