Portrait of a Man (Sir Ralph Sadler?), Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger (German, Augsburg 1497/98–1543 London), Oil and gold on oak

Portrait of a Man (Sir Ralph Sadler?)

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger (German, Augsburg 1497/98–1543 London)
Oil and gold on oak
Diameter 12 in. (30.5 cm)
Credit Line:
The Jules Bache Collection, 1949
Accession Number:
Not on view
During his second sojourn in London (1532–43), Holbein catered primarily to Henry VIII’s requests, but he also worked for many courtiers who were eager to have their portraits made by the king’s painter. He began such commissions by capturing the likeness of the sitter on paper. This portrait of an unidentified twenty-eight-year-old man can be directly linked to a preparatory study (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle). The masterfully executed drawing was used for transfer, since its incised lines match the contours of the portrait precisely. Holbein left the painting’s execution to a workshop assistant.
On his second sojourn in London, from 1532 to 1543, Holbein was attached to the court of Henry VIII at Whitehall Palace. There he catered primarily to the sovereign's requests, but he also counted among his patrons and friends many courtiers who were eager to have their portraits made by the king's painter. In his usual manner, Holbein began such portraits by capturing the likeness of the sitter on paper. While he had employed black and colored chalks on unprimed paper during his first visit to England (1526–28), he worked up the drawings of his second stay in colored chalks and pen and ink on pink primed paper that approximated the color of flesh. His meticulous drawings were in turn used as cartoons—one-to-one scale images—to transfer the details of the sitter's features onto the prepared ground of a panel. Many of these drawings have survived, an especially rich selection being housed in the Royal Collection.

This portrait can be directly linked to such a drawing, which was carefully prepared as a model for the painted image. Not only do the size and features of the heads match exactly, but there are clear indications that the drawing itself was used to make a tracing onto the grounded panel. Precise, reinforcing metalpoint and sharp chalk lines can be detected on most contours of the forms in the drawing, including those around the head, ear, and hat and in certain areas of the costume. On the reverse of the drawing, remnants of black chalk are restricted to these same reinforced lines, indicating that the contours were gone over in order to achieve a transfer (using an interleafing carbon-coated sheet) of the main details of the portrait onto the panel. The underdrawing on the grounded panel shows the rigid contour lines typical of a transfer (see Additional Images, fig. 2).

Certain details indicate that while the masterfully executed drawing is by Holbein himself, the painting was most likely produced by a workshop assistant. Even taking into account the compromised state of the picture, the demeanor of the sitter and the execution and handling of his costume are wooden and lifeless compared with the powerfully direct, vigorous expression in the drawing. The underdrawing on the panel is more extensive than usual on autograph Holbein portraits, perhaps suggesting the necessity of a more detailed plan for execution in paint by an assistant. Ainsworth (1989) concurs with Held (1949), Rowlands (1985), and Foister (2006) in rejecting the attribution to Holbein himself. Foister, observing that the hand is awkwardly small and narrow for the size of the man, ascribed the painting to the workshop.

The inscription reveals that the sitter was twenty-eight years old in 1535. This has given rise to the theory proposed by Gray (1992) and Foister (2006) that he may be Sir Ralph Sadler (1507–1587), a diplomat and administrator whose biographical details indicate close connections with the court of Henry VIII. By the age of fourteen, Sadler resided in the house of Thomas Cromwell, in 1527 he became his secretary, and in 1535 he became clerk of the hanaper in chancery and built his own house in Hackney. Sadler was knighted in 1540 and appointed to the post of principal secretary of state to Henry. His long association with Cromwell led to his brief arrest when Cromwell was charged with treason, but Sadler renounced his mentor and resumed his post apparently without further difficulties. He continued to serve Henry, as well as Edward VI and Elizabeth I, until his death at the age of eighty. The only other known likenesses of Sadler are his tomb effigy in Standon Church, Hertfordshire, and a full-length portrait showing him holding a hawk on his wrist, which survives only in a schematic copy. Although the MMA portrait and the tomb effigy display certain similarities, the difference of more than fifty years between the two images—one drawn and painted and the other a stone sculpture—makes a reliable determination of the sitter's identity impossible. For now, the identification as Sadler must remain hypothetical.

[2013; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
The roundel is made of two boards of Baltic oak originating from the same tree, with the grain oriented horizontally. Dendochronological analysis indicated suggested an earliest possible fabrication date of 1526. The panel exhibits a flat, unpainted border approximately 12.5 centimeters wide, which is recessed .32 centimeters below the image area. The border is painted with a thin layer of black over a thick layer of opaque red. A compass point visible in the x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 1) is an artifact of the manufacture of the circular format. This evidence also indicated that the panel was originally turned on a lathe with an integral frame that has been removed. The roundel is cradled, and the reverse of the panel and cradle are thickly coated with wax.

The white ground preparation was followed by an application of a pale pink priming. Examination with the stereomicroscope and x-radiography revealed that the priming contains an opaque red pigment and lead white.

Abrasion and extensive restoration make it difficult to assess the quality of the original. There are losses along the panel join, as well as a large loss extending the width of the forehead above the eyes. Half of the right eyebrow and the whole of the left are lost and have been restored. There is a large loss in the beard associated with the central compass point. The inscription has been almost entirely restored with gold paint. However, when the panel is examined with the stereomicroscope, traces of the original gold and a gold-colored mordant are visible.

Infrared reflectography (see Additional Images, fig. 2) revealed evidence of the use of a tracing: slight skips in the line, areas where a drawing implement was apparently removed and then placed down again in a slightly different location (for example, in the right eye), and reinforcement of some contours with ink (also in the eyes).

A comparison of the underdrawing and the painting revealed a few discrepancies. The ear at the right, drawn slightly too high, was not painted. The curls in the beard, which are freely drawn, extend far lower onto the chest than in the painted version. The profile of the hat was adjusted during painting, and the turned-back edge of the shirt collar was painted in a slightly different position than drawn.

Infrared reflectography also revealed that an area was left in reserve for the hand, and that the gloves were painted over the hand and jacket. Additionally, the shirt cuff was extended and embellished with a more elaborate fold.

[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
Inscription: Dated and inscribed (across center): ANNO DOMI[NI] 1535 ETATIS SVÆ 28
H. M. Clark, London (shortly before 1924); Arthur W. and Alice Sachs, New York (by 1924–27); [Duveen, New York, 1927–28; sold for $150,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1928–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 29; 1943, no. 28)
New York. Kleinberger Galleries. "Loan Exhibition of German Primitives," November 1928, no. 45 (as "Portrait of a Man," by Hans Holbein the Younger, lent by Jules S. Bache).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 28.

New York. Pierpont Morgan Library. "Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII," April 21–July 30, 1983, no. 7.

London. Tate Britain. "Holbein in England," September 28, 2006–January 7, 2007, no. 125.

New York. The Met Breuer. "Kerry James Marshall Selects: Works from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 25, 2016–January 29, 2017, no catalogue.

Paul Ganz. Die Handzeichnungen Hans Holbeins des Jüngeren. Lieferung 31–35, Berlin, [1911–26], under text for drawing no. XXXIII 10 (the Windsor drawing), identifies the drawing in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle [London], as a study for our roundel, then in the H. M. Clark collection; describes the sitter as a twenty-eight-year-old nobleman.

Paul Ganz. "Ein unbekanntes Herrenbildnis von Hans Holbein d. J." Jahrbuch fuer Kunst und Kunstpflege in der Schweiz (1921–24), pp. 294–96, pl. 7, discusses this roundel, in the Sachs collection, as an adaptation by Holbein of the portrait miniature, and places it chronologically between "The Ambassadors" [National Gallery, London] and the portrait of Sir Richard Southwell [Uffizi, Florence]; based on his costume, identifies the sitter as a French nobleman and suggests he may be one of Jean de Dinteville's brothers; asserts that our portrait roundel, like the roundel of Edward VII in the collection of Viscount Lee of Fareham [MMA 49.7.31], is 30 cm in diameter and painted on oak prepared with a chalk ground; notes that the finished portrait follows the preparatory drawing in Windsor Castle line for line.

Paul Ganz. Les dessins de Hans Holbein le jeune. Vol. 7, Geneva, [1921–26], unpaginated, under text for drawing no. XXXIII 10 (the Windsor drawing), locates the painting in a private collection, London.

Paul Ganz. "The Last Work of Hans Holbein the Younger." Apollo 2 (July–December 1925), p. 327, believes it was painted at about the same time as the roundel of Edward VII with Lord Lee.

Tancred Borenius. "A Portrait by Holbein." Apollo 3 (January–June 1926), p. 249.

Malcolm Vaughan. "Holbein Portraits in America." International Studio 88 (November 1927), p. 27, ill., as by Holbein.

[Frank E. Washburn] F[reund]. "New Yorker Ausstellungen." Der Cicerone 20 (1928), p. 797, ill., as by Holbein.

A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill., as by Holbein.

Wilhelm Stein. Holbein. Berlin, 1929, p. 254, attributes it to Holbein and suggests that the sitter is Jean de Dinteville, somewhat older than he appears in The Ambassadors (National Gallery, London); mentions the drawing in Windsor Castle and a corresponding etching by Hollar.

Frank E. Washburn Freund. "Austellung altdeutscher Malerei in den F. Kleinberger Galleries zu New York." Belvedere 8 (1929), p. 286.

August L. Mayer. "Die Sammlung Jules Bache in New-York." Pantheon 6 (December 1930), p. 542, ill. p. 541.

Royal Cortissoz. "The Jules S. Bache Collection." American Magazine of Art 21 (May 1930), p. 260, discusses the group of Holbein portraits in the Bache collection.

Oswald Götz. "Holbeins Bildnis des Simon George of Quocoute: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Rundbildes in der Renaissance." Städel-Jahrbuch 7–8 (1932), pp. 125–27, fig. 89, states that this is Holbein's earliest large roundel; notes that the rectangular form of the preliminary drawing leads one to wonder if this portrait was originally conceived as a roundel.

Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 82, no. 366.

A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 29, ill.

Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 219, ill.

A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 28, ill.

K. T. Parker. The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle. London, 1945, p. 45, fig. 15, under no. 33, remarks that the painting shows the drawing to have been cut at the right and adds that although the drawing is "rather rubbed" and retouched in black chalk, "the penwork is of good quality and may be accepted as Holbein's"; rejects Ganz's view [Ref. 1921–24] that the sitter is a Frenchman, perhaps one of the Dinteville brothers, observing that there is no evidence to support either contention.

Heinrich Alfred Schmid. Hans Holbein der Jüngere: Sein Aufstieg zur Meisterschaft und sein englischer Stil. Tafelband, Basel, 1945, p. 32, under no. 91.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 216–17, ill.

Heinrich Alfred Schmid. Hans Holbein der Jüngere: Sein Aufstieg zur Meisterschaft und sein englischer Stil. Vol. 1–2, Basel, 1948, vol. 2, p. 371.

Julius S. Held. "Book Reviews: Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta M. Salinger . . ., 1947." Art Bulletin 31 (June 1949), p. 143, observes that this portrait "while surely reflecting an original by Holbein, seems to be too poor for a product of Holbein's own brush"; calls it "an old copy of a lost original".

Paul Ganz. The Paintings of Hans Holbein. London, 1950, p. 246, no. 86, pl. 128, identifies the sitter as "a Frenchman, probably a member of the French embassy in London".

Hans Werner Grohn in L'opera pittorica completa di Holbein il Giovane. Milan, 1971, p. 103, no. 97, ill. p. 104.

Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII. Exh. cat., Buckingham Palace, The Queen's Gallery. [London], 1978, p. 77, under no. 42, note that the drawing has been cut on both sides and at the bottom, and that the hands, visible in the painting, have been cut off in the drawing.

Jane Roberts. Holbein. London, 1979, p. 89, under no. 79.

Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII. Exh. cat., Pierpont Morgan Library. New York, 1983, unpaginated, under no. 28, fig. 7.

K. T. Parker with an appendix by Susan Foister in The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. London, 1983, p. 45, under no. 33, fig. 15.

Susan Foister. Drawings by Holbein from the Royal Library Windsor Castle. London, 1983, pp. 18–19, 21, 42, under no. 33, fig. 35, attributes it to Holbein and notes that in this, as in other cases, measurements from the painting and corresponding drawing indicate some form of mechanical transfer.

John Rowlands. Holbein: The Paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger. Oxford, 1985, pp. 114, 232, no. R. 22, ill., comments on the marking of the outline of this portrait, comparing it with the portrait of Jane Seymour in the Hague [Mauritshuis], in which the figure is painted in "a slightly sunken area on the panel"; attributes the Hague picture to a close follower of Holbein and ours to a follower very likely trained in Holbein's studio.

Jane Roberts. Drawings by Holbein from the Court of Henry VIII. Exh. cat., Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. [New York], 1988, p. 70, ill., attributes the painting to Holbein, but quotes a written communication from Maryan Ainsworth of 1986 ascribing the painting to Holbein's workshop, as there is "a more extensive under-drawing in brush than is normally found in works by the artist (except those from the very end of his career)".

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Northern Renaissance Drawings and Underdrawings: A Proposed Method of Study." Master Drawings 27 (Spring 1989), pp. 17–18, figs. 17, 19 (infrared reflectogram), attributes the Windsor Castle drawing to Holbein but finds the "wooden, lifeless character" of the painting indicative of a workshop product; notes that the use of an "interleafing carbon-coated sheet [for transfer] is strongly suggested by blackened lines on the back of the drawing, which are confined to countours reinforced on the front".

Maryan Ainsworth. "'Paternes for phiosioneamyes': Holbein's Portraiture Reconsidered." Burlington Magazine 132 (March 1990), p. 183, figs. 21–22 (the painting and infrared reflectogram).

Jane Roberts. Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII: Drawings and Miniatures from The Royal Library, Windsor Castle. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Scotland. Edinburgh, 1993, p. 60, ill. (the painting and infrared reflectogram), as Workshop of Holbein.

Mike Gray. Sutton House: An Illustrated Souvenir. rev. ed. London, 1997, p. 6 [mentions only the drawing], tentatively identifies the Holbein drawing on which our portrait is based as a likeness of Ralph Sadleir [or Sadler]; discusses the history of Sutton House, built by Sadler, Secretary of State to Henry VIII and diplomat in the service of subsequent Tudor rulers.

Alastair Laing. E-mail to Maryan Ainsworth. December 19, 2003, reports that the identification of our portrait as that of Sir Ralph Sadler is speculative, but not implausible, adding that the date of our painting is the date that he built Sutton House; observes that the only certain likeness of him is that on his tomb in Sutton church, Hertfordshire, which shows him as an old man; adds that there is another, full length, portrait of him with a hawk on his wrist, which survives only in a schematic copy.

Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, p. 449.

Susan Foister. Holbein in England. Exh. cat., Tate Britain. London, 2006, p. 114, no. 125, ill., as "produced under Holbein's supervision but by an unidentified assistant who must have been working with him in England"; notes that the dates [date and age] inscribed on our portrait "have plausibly suggested the sitter might be Sir Ralph Sadler (1507–1587), a protégé of Cromwell who in 1535 became clerk of the hanaper of chancery; although there are other possible candidates whose date of birth would fit those on the painting, the clothing of the sitter suggests he was probably not of noble birth".

Maryan W. Ainsworth in German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 146–48, 304, no. 34, ill. (color) and fig. 124 (infrared reflectogram detail).