Adriaen Isenbrant is the name associated with a group of paintings produced in early-sixteenth-century Bruges that continued the traditions of fifteenth-century predecessors in terms of their still-popular style and motifs. This group of works, like those of the contemporary Ambrosius Benson (see 1982.60.23
), depended heavily on the art of Gerard David (for a biography of Gerard David, see “Gerard David (born about 1455, died 1523).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–
. Where Isenbrant originated and received his training is unknown, but he might have worked for Gerard David as his assistant early in his career. He then became a freemaster on November 29, 1510, and occupied different positions in the painters’ guild in Bruges throughout his life.
Attribution is an ongoing problem in Isenbrant’s oeuvre, and many works, even those of far less quality, are often ascribed to him simply because they show the influence of Gerard David’s style. In fact, not one painting can be ascribed to Isenbrant with certainty. It was Georges Hulin de Loo who linked the name Adriaen Isenbrant with a number of paintings which were previously attributed to the "Pseudo-Mostaert" group, named after the painter Jan Mostaert. Lorne Campbell, alternatively, connected some of the paintings traditionally given to Isenbrant with Albert Cornelis, another artist who perhaps worked with Gerard David.
The centerpiece of Isenbrant’s oeuvre is Our Lady of Sorrows
(Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Bruges). His reconstructed oeuvre predominately consists of devotional pieces as well as a group of portraits. Most of his devotional works were sold in Bruges at the Pand
, but he also expanded his sales in Antwerp through Marc Bonnet, who acted as his agent in 1549. Stylistically, the works attributed to Isenbrant favor a warm color palette, especially employing reds and browns. The figures are delicately painted with a very soft and hazy quality to the flesh tones in particular, a characteristic that enhances their desirability, even now.The Subject of the Painting:
Portraits that identify the profession of a sitter through details of costume and prominently displayed accessories are relatively rare in the fifteenth century. Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Goldsmith
of 1430 (Museul de Artä, Bucharest) or the Portrait of Jan de Leeuw
, also a goldsmith, of 1436 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) immediately come to mind. Even more elaborate in terms of accoutrements is another possible professional portrait, A Goldsmith in His Shop
by Petrus Christus (The Met, 1975.1.110
). However, starting at the cusp of the sixteenth century, with works such as Gerard David’s Portrait of a Goldsmith (Jacob Cnoop the Younger?)
of around 1500 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), occupational portraits became more popular. Splendid examples of the 1520s and 1530s by Bernard van Orley, Quinten Massys, Jan Gossart, and Hans Holbein the Younger firmly establish this new genre.
This portrait of a man weighing gold coins slightly precedes this latter group, and as such presents some ambiguities of presentation and meaning. The young man, dressed in a black coat trimmed with expensive fur over a red doublet and white shirt, wears a black hat. He holds a scale in his left hand that he uses to weigh the gold coins on the table and in his right hand. He might have been a banker, like Tommaso Portinari (The Met, 14.40.626
), or more likely, one of the many merchants who dealt in commodities but also handled money, similar to Jan Gossart’s Portrait of a Merchant
(National Gallery of Art, Washington; see fig. 1 above). These so-called wholesale merchants dealt in everything they could get their hands on and often acted as financiers or moneychangers. The latter was especially needed, as Bruges, and later Antwerp, attracted not only merchants from northern Europe but also from Italy, Portugal, and Spain, which resulted in the use of many different currencies. As Diane Wolfthal points out, the color of the green cloth which covers the table was probably chosen intentionally. In fourteenth century Florence, only members of the Arte del Cambio (Guild of Bankers and Money Changers) were allowed to cover their tables with a green cloth. This symbol of legitimacy then made its way through early imagery into the sixteenth century and into Isenbrant’s painting.The Function of the Painting:
The profession and dress of our sitter indicate that he might have been part of the wealthy merchant class that grew exponentially during the fifteenth and sixteenth century and took an interest in secular portraiture (see Wilson 1998, p. 196). Some authors believe the painting to be purely secular and to have been part of a diptych with the other portrait depicting the sitter’s wife (see Wehle and Salinger 1947, pp. 100–101). A famous example, although not a diptych, is Quinten Massys’s The Moneylender and His Wife
(Musée du Louvre, Paris), signed and dated 1514. Guy Bauman points out, however, that for The Met’s portrait to have functioned as a marital diptych, the male sitter would normally have occupied the left side of the ensemble, facing in the opposite direction toward his wife (see Bauman 1986, p. 46). He continues to argue that the painting still could have been part of an ensemble, where the portrait of a friend or colleague formed the other half, much like Quinten Massys’s Friendship Diptych
, dated around 1517, of Erasmus (Royal Collection, Hampton Court) and Pieter Gillis (Earl of Radnor collection, Longford Castle). Other authors have mentioned that the scales might allude to a possible hidden moral meaning as a balance between worldly and spiritual matters (see unpublished notes in curatorial file by Lorne Campbell, 1981; Bauman 1986, p. 46; and Sintobin 1998, pp. 194–95). Given the lack of devotional demeanor of the sitter, it is improbable that the portrait had a religious function. However, the scales might have reminded contemporary viewers of Saint Michael on Judgment Day (see Bauman 1986, p. 46). An interesting proposal comes from Diane Wolfthal, who points out that the balance is not level, making the coin underweight and leaving our sitter with a moral decision. Given the lack of other objects on the table (so he won’t be distracted in his choice) and the distant gaze of the sitter, she further argues that he is contemplating the ethics of his trade and the consequences of his decision in the afterlife. She concludes that "this portrait would have served to counteract the view that merchants are hopelessly greedy misers."The Attribution and Date:
Unfortunately, the portrait does not carry a signature or date, which makes it difficult to place the painting securely within the oeuvre of Isenbrant, to whom it has been attributed. Stylistically, however, it can be connected with other works in the Isenbrant group from around 1515–20 (as is supported by the dendrochronology; see Technical Notes), such as the Portrait of Paulus de Nigro
, dated 1518 (Groeningemuseum, Bruges; fig. 2), the Van de Velde Diptych
(Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, and Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Bruges), and The Life of the Virgin
(The Met, 13.32a–c
). These paintings all share the same stylistic qualities, such as the warm palette, blurred contours, and delicate treatment of the hands and facial features.
Speculation about the original function and meaning of the portrait will probably continue to exist, since any further clues might have been obscured when the panel was cut down at the left and possibly the right edges, and small strips of 1 3/4 inches were added. When this was done and how much was cut away is unclear, but this intervention made the remaining original panel much taller and narrower compared to the dimensions of most portraits at the time (fig. 3). Even before the portrait was finished it had already been extensively reworked by the artist, as can be concluded from the infrared reflectography and x-radiography (figs. 4 and 5; see Technical Notes). The hat of the man was bigger and the fur lapels of his coat wider, similar to Isenbrant’s Portrait of Paulus de Nigro
(fig. 2). As is seen in the x-radiograph, the sitter’s head was initially depicted in near profile, and the positions of the hands switched (see Technical Notes for a complete description of the changes that were made). Infrared reflectography shows that one of the weighing dishes formerly had a circular shape instead of a triangular one, which would have been more accurate compared to the actual scales that were used by merchants and moneychangers. Instead, Isenbrant shows a variation on tradition in the finished painting. Furthermore, a curious vertical dark line is visible just next to the added strip on the left side, which is now overpainted but did not originally extend all the way to the top of the panel. Could it be the remnants of a window that was obscured when the panel was cut? This remains unknown.
Joyce Klein Koerkamp 2019
 See Georges Hulin de Loo, Bruges 1902: Exposition de tableaux Flamands des XIVe, XVe et XVIe siècles, Catalogue Critique
, Ghent, 1902, pp. LXIII–LXVII.
 See Lorne Campbell, National Gallery Catalogues: The Sixteenth Century Netherlandish Paintings with French Paintings before 1600
, vol. I, London 2014, pp. 276–77.
 See R.A. Parmentier, "Bronnen voor de geschiedenis van het Brugsche schildermilieu in de XVIe eeuw, IX: Adriaan Isenbrant," in Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Oudheidkunde en Kunstgeschiedenis
9 (1939), pp. 249–50.
 See Leon Voet, Antwerp, the Golden Age: The Rise and Glory of the Metropolis in the Sixteenth Century
, Antwerp 1973, pp. 330–31; John Oliver Hand and Martha Wolff, Early Netherlandish Painting
, Washington, 1986, pp. 103–7; and André Vandewalle, Les marchands de la Hanse et la banque des Médicis: Bruges, marché d’échanges culturels en Europe/Hanzekooplui en Medicibankiers, Brugge, wisselmarkt van Europese culturen
, Oostkamp 2002, pp. 51–62.
 See Diane Wolfthal, Medieval Money, Merchants, and Morality
, New York, forthcoming 2022.
 See forthcoming Wolfthal 2022.