Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Portrait of a Young Man; (reverse) Girl Making a Garland

Hans Süss von Kulmbach (German, Kulmbach ca. 1480–1522 Nuremberg)
ca. 1508
Oil on poplar
7 x 5 1/2 in. (17.8 x 14 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 643
Hans Süss von Kulmbach had been apprenticed to the Italian painter and printmaker Jacopo de’ Barbari, who worked at a number of German courts in the first decade of the sixteenth century. The latter’s influence must have continued even after Kulmbach joined Dürer’s Nuremberg studio in 1507, since this portrait of an unidentified young man, which dates from about 1508, is stylistically very close to Barbari's earlier Portrait of a Man (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). The panel is unique in Kulmbach’s oeuvre, as it joins a portrait with an allegorical subject on the verso.
Reverse label: This charming genre depiction represents a girl making a garland of forget-me-nots, one of which lies on the windowsill. A decoratively trailing banderole above reads, in translation, "I bind with forget-me-nots." Symbolizing a lover or prospective bride, the young maiden seems to address the young man who appears on the other side of the panel, promising to bind her heart faithfully to him. The prominently placed cat—a symbol of respectable, constant love in the art of the period— also refers to her commitment and affection.

This is among the relatively few extant early sixteenth-century panels that join a portrait with an emblematic or allegorical subject on the reverse. Two other notable contemporary examples are Jacopo de’ Barbari’s Portrait of a Man, with a nude couple on the reverse, of about 1497–1500 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), and a Portrait of a Man, with Pyramus and Thisbe on the reverse, of about 1505, formerly attributed to Hans Baldung and now given to a follower of Albrecht Dürer in Nuremberg (Musée Unterlinden, Colmar).

Scholars have offered various interpretations of Girl Making a Garland, most notably that it represents a generic portrait of the betrothed of the unidentified man on the obverse, or that it constitutes the first genre scene in German art. However, the meaning of the painting must surely be tied to the specific activity of the girl, the prominently placed cat, and the text on the banderole (which reads, in translation, "I bind with forget-me-nots"). Wearing a dancing dress, the girl is presented as a young maiden, her loose, flowing hair adorned with a double string of pearls symbolic of her chastity. Rather than a portrait, she is a female type, symbolizing a lover or prospective bride. Although the wreath of flowers was traditionally worn by women at festivals and tournaments, it was also commonly donned without a special event in mind by girls in southern Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Most important for this painting was the wreath worn by the bride as a sign of her virginity on her wedding day, when it would be taken from her with certain rites and replaced with a bonnet. The cat has many connotations in the art of this period, but the most likely one here is that suggested by Dittrich and Dittrich (2004)—a symbol of the respectable, constant love for the man who appears on the other side of the panel.

The inscription on the banderole is a text in Middle German referring specifically to the action of the maiden as she makes her wreath. The banderole, derived from numerous medieval examples, serves to unite text with image, offering an explanation of the scene. A similar "subtitle" appears in the so-called Gotha Double Portrait by the Master of the Housebook (Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha), perhaps the most well-known of such love and betrothal paintings, which also bears an inscription referring to the relationship of the man and the woman depicted. The girl in the Museum’s painting seems to address the young man on the other side of the panel. A close translation of the verb binden also reveals that the girl expresses an almost oathlike commitment along with her affection. Her promise to bind her heart faithfully to her lover is further heightened by the reference to the forget-me-not. This plant played an important role in the love poetry and love magic of that time, where it was often cited with its pre-fifteenth-century name, Jelängerjelieber (the one who longs, the one who is dear). When given to a beloved and suspended from his or her neck, the forget-me-not was believed to inspire love toward its presenter. Moreover, the name highlights the association of the flower with faithfulness and loving commemoration within relationships.

Because of the false monogram and date on the reverse, the two paintings were initially accepted as by Dürer. By 1884 Thausing had already rejected that notion; in the 1905 catalogue of the Museum’s paintings, a new attribution was made to Wolf Traut, a Nuremberg painter who served as Dürer’s assistant on a number of occasions. A catalogue of a 1906 exhibition in London attributed only Girl Making a Garland to Traut and ascribed the portrait to a Nuremberg painter influenced by de’ Barbari. Concurrently, Friedländer recognized the "sentimental" manner of the two paintings as characteristic of Hans Süss von Kulmbach, rejected any attribution to Traut, and deemed the Dürer monogram inauthentic. While several scholars agreed with Friedländer’s observations, the attribution to Traut persisted, in part because the artist was known to have emulated Kulmbach’s style. Taking up Friedländer’s attribution to Kulmbach, Winkler (1930) dated the panel to the period after the artist settled in Nuremberg in 1505. This opinion gained ground, especially when Winkler’s opinion that it might be Kulmbach’s earliest known work was reiterated in the catalogue of a 1950 exhibition at the Herron School of Art and Design, Indianapolis.

The maiden in Girl Making a Garland is comparable with figures in Kulmbach’s early drawings, particularly Pairs of Lovers and an Old Woman (Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich) of about 1504–5. The woman seated second from the left in that drawing shows a similar awkward foreshortening of the shoulders but also a successful understanding of the legs, described by the folds of the fabric of her dress. Even, parallel hatching in discrete areas suggests the modeling of forms in both the drawing and the underdrawing of the MMA painting, although Kulmbach is quicker and looser with his handling in the underdrawing than in the more formal sketch on paper, as the underdrawing of the cat also shows. Though thinly applied, the brownish and pinkish tones over the underdrawing in the flesh areas (with white present only in slightly blended highlights) appear both in the painting of the girl here and in Kulmbach’s apostles in the later Ascension of Christ (MMA 21.84).

Questions regarding the date of the panel have been harder to resolve, in part because of the compromised state of Portrait of a Man. A more precise placement of the portrait within Kulmbach’s oeuvre must take into account the influence of de’ Barbari, and especially of his Portrait of a Man (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) which bears the initials "I.B." and the caduceus, the artist’s mark. This painting dates to about 1505–6, when Jacopo was working in Wittenberg for the Dukes of Saxony. The sitters are similar in pose, except for the absence of a hand resting on the edge of the lower frame in Kulmbach’s portrait; each faces forward and turns his head slightly to the left as he gazes dreamily into the distance.

De’ Barbari was in Nuremberg by 1500, serving as court painter and illuminator to Maximilian I. He spent time at a number of other German courts, including those of Friedrich the Wise of Saxony, Joachim and Albrecht of Brandenburg, and Heinrich of Mecklenburg, before heading to the Netherlands around 1509 to work for Philip of Burgundy and later for Margaret of Austria in Mechelen. Winkler (1930) supposed that Kulmbach was in de’ Barbari’s workshop at Maximilian’s court between April 1500 and 1503. Barbara Butts ("The Drawings of Hans Süss von Kulmbach," Master Drawings 44 [Summer 2006], pp. 127–212) argued convincingly that Kulmbach was more likely to have been apprenticed to de’ Barbari in Wittenberg from 1503 to 1505, at Friedrich’s court, before he joined Dürer’s workshop in Nuremberg around 1507. This time frame for Kulmbach’s route as a journeyman painter explains why the Metropolitan’s portrait shows de’ Barbari’s strong influence and especially that of his so-called "soft portrait style." This influence must have continued even somewhat after Kulmbach joined Dürer’s workshop, which was then being run by Hans Schäufelein during the master’s sojourn in Venice. Although the Dürer monogram and date of 1508 were added to the painting later, the date could well be correct for the portrait. Strieder (1993) concurred that the awkward rendering of space and the archaic elements of the banderole in Girl Making a Garland indicate an early date, before 1510. And Winkler (1959) noted that it was not until after 1511, when Kulmbach became a citizen of Nuremberg and established his own workshop, that the artist signed his works with the monogram "HK".

As a portrait with an accompanying allegorical subject, this panel is unique in Kulmbach’s oeuvre; it can also be identified as the earliest surviving portrait by the artist.

[2014; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
The support is a poplar panel .16 centimeter thick, with the grain oriented horizontally. The panel displays a moderate convex lateral warp. A horizontal split is present below the center, and several chips are found along the side edges. A barbe and unpainted borders approximately .6 centimeter wide surrounding the image areas on both sides indicate that the panel was in an engaged frame when the white ground preparation was applied. Examination with the stereomicroscope revealed a very thin, bright, white priming on top of the ground layer.
Magnification showed that the large monogram in the style of Dürer above the cat in Girl Making a Garland extends over the cracks and is therefore not original.
Girl Making a Garland is generally well preserved. It is thinly painted, however, and the paint has increased in transparency with age. In addition, the surface is slightly worn. The blue-and-red edging on the neckline of the white chemise is damaged. Nevertheless, the appearance of the painting is cohesive, and the fine detail remains impressive. Portrait of a Young Man is severely abraded throughout and has been extensively restored.
In Girl Making a Garland, detailed underdrawing with a black liquid medium applied with a very small brush and slightly wavering in quality is visible beneath the paint surface in normal light and enhanced with infrared equipment. Contours of the girl and cat as well as overall loose, curling hatching describing the forms are most clearly apparent. The painted positions of the girl and cat differ slightly from those drawn. A few strokes of underdrawing are visible in Portrait of a Young Man, including the contours of the mouth and chin, the strands of hair framing the face, and the edge of the collar. The quality of the line appears similar to that found beneath the image of the girl. In Girl Making a Garland, lines scored into the preparation layer were used to plan the architecture of the window. The lattice was incised into the brownish black background with a fine stylus.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
Inscription: Inscribed: (on scroll) .ICH PINT MIT, VERGIS MEIN NIT. (I bind with forget-me-nots); (right center, falsely, with initials of Albrecht Dürer) AD [monogram] / 1508
?private collection, Vienna (before 1800); Francesco Santangelo, Palazzo Carafa di Maddaloni, Naples (by 1815–d. 1836); his son, Nicola Santangelo, Palazzo Carafa di Maddaloni (1836–47); his brother, Michele Santangelo, Palazzo Carafa di Maddaloni, and Villa dei Santangelo, Pollena (1847–d. 1876); Santangelo family, Pollena (1876–at least 1884; cat., 1876, no. 33, as by Dürer); Dominic Colnaghi (in 1906); J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (by 1909–d. 1913; his estate, 1913–17)
London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "Early German Art," 1906, nos. 39, 39A (as "A Girl making a Wreath of Forget-me-nots," by Wolfgang Traut, and "Portrait of a Youth," by the Nuremberg School, influenced by Jacopo dei Barbari, lent by Mr. Dominic Colnaghi).

New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "The Artist and the Animal," May 7–24, 1968, no. 20 (as "A Girl Tying a Wreath," by Hans von Kulmbach).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, 1300–1550," April 8–June 22, 1986, no. 162 (as "Portrait of a Young Man, (reverse): Girl Making a Garland").

Nuremberg. Germanisches Nationalmuseum. "Nürnberg 1300–1550: Kunst der Gotik und Renaissance," July 24–September 28, 1986, no. 162.

Domenico Romanelli. Napoli antica e moderna. Naples, 1815, vol. 3, p. 92, as in the collection of the lawyer D. Francesco Santa[n]gelo, new owner of the Palazzo Colombrano; describes the picture as "una V. [Virgin], che intesse una ghirlanda di Alberto Duro, che vi segnò l'anno 1518 [sic], e la sua cifra"; does not mention the portrait of a young man on the reverse.

Carlo Celano. Notizie del bello, dell'antico e del curioso della città di Napoli. Ed. Giovanni Battista Chiarini. Vol. 3, Naples, 1858, p. 690, lists it in the palazzo of the marchese Santangelo, describing it as "un quadrettino di 'Alberto Durer' segnato del suo monogramma e dell' anno 1508, che rappresenta la molestissima donna di lui, sedente con un gatto vicino, in atto d'intrecciare una ghirlanda dei fiori comunemente detti 'non ti scordar di me', com' è scritto in una fettuccia, ripiegata più volte, con le parole tedesche nell' ortografia del tempo 'ich pint mit vergis mein nit'".

Catalogo della pinacoteca dei marchesi Santangelo di Napoli. Naples, 1876, pp. 15–16, no. 33, as by Dürer; states that it depicts the artist's "irascible and unbearable" wife.

Moriz Thausing. Dürer: Geschichte seines Lebens und seiner Kunst. 2nd ed. [1st ed., 1876]. Leipzig, 1884, vol. 1, p. 366 n. 1, mentions it as in the Santangelo collection, Naples, but rejects the attribution to Dürer.

Catalogue of the Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1905, unpaginated addenda for October–December 1909, lists "Girl Making a Garland" as by Wolfgang Traut, lent by J. Pierpont Morgan.

[Max J.] Friedländer. "Die Ausstellung altdeutscher Kunst im Burlington Fine Arts Club zu London—Sommer 1906." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 29 (1906), p. 587, attributes both sides of the painting to Hans von Kulmbach.

Christian Rauch. Die Trauts: Studien und Beiträge zur Geschichte der Nürnberger Malerei. Strasbourg, 1907, pp. 78–79, pl. 24 (woman), attributes the "Girl Making a Garland" to Wolf Traut, not mentioning the "Portrait of a Young Man," but including the picture in a group of "Liebesbilder"; relates the girl to the figures of Mary and Anna in the Artelshofen altarpiece (Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich); mentions that the picture appeared recently on the English art market, specifying the owners as the Colnaghi brothers; states that both the monogram and the year are false, and tentatively suggests that the person who added them may also have retouched the cat, the inscription, and the window frame.

"The Pierpont Morgan Gift." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 13 (January 1918), p. 17, lists "Girl Making a Garland" as by Traut.

Friedrich Winkler. Letter to Harry B. Wehle. April 30, 1929, is "nearly quite sure" that both sides "are especially fine works of Hans von Kulmbach".

F[riedrich]. Winkler. "Ein Bildnistäfelchen des Hans von Kulmbach." Pantheon 6 (July–December 1930), pp. 452–54, ill. (both sides), attributes both sides to Kulmbach; suggests that the similarity to the work of Jacopo de' Barbari may indicate that it is Kulmbach's earliest work; identifies the young man as the girl's fiancé.

Hans Tietze. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935, p. 339, pl. 206 (woman) [English ed., "Masterpieces of European Painting in America," New York, 1939, p. 323, pl. 206 (woman)], accepts the attribution to Kulmbach.

Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 56, no. 214, attributes the woman to Traut, but finds that the man "has some affinities" to Kulmbach; dates the work about 1515 and calls it a betrothal picture.

Franz Stadler. Hans von Kulmbach. Vienna, 1936, pp. 54, 129, nos. 118a (man), 118b (woman), pl. 58 (both sides), attributes both sides to Kulmbach and dates both sides 1515–18.

Emil Waldmann. "Deutsche Kunst in amerikanischen Museen." Der Türmer: Deutsche Monatshefte 39 (January 1937), p. 304, ill. (woman), attributes the woman to either Traut or Kulmbach and states that the man is by the same hand.

Fritz Tr. Schulz in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 33, Leipzig, 1939, p. 352, lists both sides as by Traut under the year 1508; notes that Rauch [see Ref. 1907] attributes both sides to Traut, but that both Winkler and Stadler [see Refs. 1930 and 1936] assign the panel to Kulmbach.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 190–91, ill. (both sides), state that both sides are probably by Kulmbach; note that the woman shows a higher degree of finish than the man, and that while the condition of the former is excellent, the latter is seriously worn.

Holbein and His Contemporaries. Exh. cat., John Herron Art Museum. Indianapolis, 1950, unpaginated, no. 42 (woman), ill. (woman), as by Kulmbach; notes that both Panofsky and Held have recently independently corrected the translation of the inscription from "I am here too; do not forget me" to "I twine this wreath of forget-me-nots".

Friedrich Winkler. Hans von Kulmbach: Leben und Werk eines fränkischen Künstlers der Dürerzeit. Kulmbach, 1959, p. 56, pls. 32 (man), 33 (woman), states that the picture went from Vienna to Naples in the eighteenth century, and that it came to the attention of the painter Wilhelm Tischbein at that time, who mentioned it in his memoirs [but see memo of May 13, 1985 in archive file].

P[eter]. Strieder in Kindlers Malerei Lexikon. Vol. 3, Zürich, 1966, pp. 777, 780, ill. (woman), attributes both sides to Kulmbach and dates the work about 1510; calls the woman the first genre scene in German panel painting.

E[berhard]. Schenk z[u]. S[chweinsberg]. "Pictura francofordiana." Schriften des Historischen Museums Frankfurt am Main 13 (1972), pp. 33–38, ill. (both sides), cites a poem of 1566 by Johannes Stigl about a painting then in Frankfurt depicting a girl making a garland of honeysuckle.

Lisa Oehler. "Das Dürermonogramm auf Werken der Dürerschule." Städel-Jahrbuch, n.s., 4 (1973), pp. 40, 77–78 n. 7, figs. 5 (woman), 33 (detail of signature), attributes the woman to Traut, calling her right hand and face characteristic of him; states that the thickened right leg of the letter "A" of the false Dürer monogram is also found in Traut's woodcut of Christ's Departure from His Mother (fig. 4); adds that the numerals of the date are shaped differently from Kulmbach's practice, and that the earliest dated work on which Traut's own monogram appears is from 1514.

Rüdiger Klessmann. Letter to Walter Liedtke. December 23, 1981, writes that the inscribed words "Ich pint mit" actually mean "Ich binde mit" and that the phrase can be freely translated as "I bind my heart with the garland".

Sigrid Walther. Hans Süß von Kulmbach. Dresden, 1981, pp. 6–7, fig. 2 (woman).

Barbara Rosalyn Butts. "'Dürerschüler' Hans Süss von Kulmbach." PhD diss., Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1985, pp. 76–78, figs. 57–58 (both sides), attributes both sides to Kulmbach and dates both sides about 1513; calls the woman especially close to Dürer's style, but notes that the original color combinations, the suppleness of the woman's figure, and the underdrawing of the cat are all characteristic of Kulmbach; relates the man to Kulmbach's portrait of Hans Gunder (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) of 1509 and his portrait of a man (Heinz Kisters collection, Kreuzlingen) of 1514.

Kurt Löcher in Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, 1300–1550. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1986, pp. 343–44, no. 162, ill. (both sides) [German ed., "Nürnberg, 1300–1550: Kunst der Gotik und Renaissance"], attributes both sides to Kulmbach; dates the man about 1508, suggesting that the date inscribed on the other side may have been transferred from the original frame; dates the woman about 1510, due to its "greater maturity" and "the deftness in the handling of its symbolic elements"; notes that the portrait must have been intended as the front of the panel, with the genre scene of the woman and cat as the back; adds that the fact that the man faces to the left indicates that the portrait was planned as an independent work, since he would customarily face to the right in a diptych, but that the painted reverse "presupposes" that the work was one side of a hinged diptych; suggests that a companion portrait of the man's fiancée may have been commissioned later, and that the woman making a garland might have been added at that time; translates the inscription as "I am tying with forget-me-nots".

Angelica Dülberg. Privatporträts: Geschichte und Ikonologie einer Gattung im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1990, pp. 16, 148, 243, no. 196, figs. 198 (man), 199 (woman).

Helmut Nickel. "The Bride and the Cat: A Possible Source for Overbeck's 'Freundschaftsbild' of Franz Pforr." Metropolitan Museum Journal 27 (1992), pp. 183, 185, 187 nn. 2–4, figs. 2–3 (both sides), suggests that the "Girl Making a Garland" served as a model for Johann Friedrich Overbeck's portrait of the painter Franz Pforr (1810; Nationalgalerie, Berlin), noting that both pictures include a similarly posed young woman at left and a cat on a window sill at lower right; states that there is no documentary evidence that Overbeck saw the MMA work in either Vienna or Naples [see Ex collections], but that the details shared by the two pictures "suggest strongly that Overbeck had it in mind when he painted his friend's portrait"; translates the inscription as "I bind with forget-me-nots"; dates the man about 1510, noting that both the inscribed monogram and date on the reverse are later additions.

Brigitte Lymant. "Die sogenannte 'Folge aus dem Alltagsleben' von Israhel van Meckenem: Ein spätgotischer Kupferstichzyklus zu Liebe und Ehe." Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 53 (1992), pp. 39, 44 n. 90.

Peter Strieder. Tafelmalerei in Nürnberg, 1350–1550. Königstein, 1993, pp. 131–32, 250, no. 124, figs. 154 (color, woman), 494 (man), attributes both sides to Kulmbach; relates the figure of the woman to those in Kulmbach's St. Nicholas altarpiece (St. Lorenz, Nuremberg); notes that the hypothesis that the man was the right wing of a portrait diptych remains questionable [see Ref. Löcher 1986]; states that the influence of Jacopo de' Barbari suggests that the date of 1508 may be accurate for the man, noting that Löcher proposes a slightly later date for the woman.

Sigrid Dittrich and Lothar Dittrich. Lexikon der Tiersymbole: Tiere als Sinnbilder in der Malerei des 14.–17. Jahrhunderts. Petersberg, Germany, 2004, pp. 259, 266 n. 70.

Sabine Lata. Wolf Traut als Maler. Nuremberg, 2005, p. 361, no. X-58, as by Kulmbach, formerly attributed to Wolf Traut.

Peter Klein. Letter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. April 3, 2006, identifies the wood of the panel as poplar.

Maryan W. Ainsworth in German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 166–71, 308–9, no. 40, ill. (color) and fig. 142 (reverse, detail of digital photograph showing underdrawing).

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