A thin-faced man with a hooked nose gazes directly out at us. He wears a black hat and his dark grey garments are perhaps made of watered silk: an irregular swirling black pattern extends across both chest and the puffed shoulders. There are no indications of the sitter’s identity.
Corneille de Lyon and his workshop produced many small portraits of French notables which stuck to a successful formula, flattering to his sitters – making it hard to distinguish between his works and those of his followers. As is usual with Corneille, the eyes are rather far apart and are not quite horizontal, and the head itself is not quite vertical. His moustache conceals the corners of his mouth; he lacks the incipient smile found in many of Corneille’s portraits.
The picture is painted in oil on a walnut panel covered with a chalk ground and a very thin layer of lead white priming. Infrared reflectograms show no sign of underdrawing: the artist, Corneille de Lyon may have painted from life. Although smaller and more close up than Portrait of a Man holding a Glove and Portrait of a Man in a Black Biretta, the style and technique are the same. The eyes are, as usual, not quite horizontal, the head not quite vertical. Here the sitter’s moustache conceals the corners of his mouth so that he cannot have the incipient smile found in many of Corneille’s portraits. His expression is rather stern.
This small picture has not been cut down – it was always this size. The ground continues to the edges of the panel all round; in places the paint has even dripped over the edges. It seems to have been framed before it was completely dry. At the top edge, a line of gold and a fragment of wood from the lost original frame are stuck to the paint, and at the bottom edge there are disruptions to the paint and traces of gold.
Corneille and his workshop produced many small portraits which stuck to a successful formula, flattering to his sitters. It’s hard to distinguish between his works and those of his followers: the same expressions, backgrounds and schemes of lighting are endlessly reproduced, the only difference being the level of technical skill. His only well-authenticated portrait is of the lawyer Pierre Aymeric (now in the Louvre, Paris), on which Aymeric wrote in his own hand that it had been painted at Lyon by Corneille; many other works are attributed to Corneille because they resemble this portrait. The artist’s business practices have compounded this problem: he exhibited his small portraits of notables of the French court in a large room, which the Venetian ambassador visited in 1551 and Catherine de' Medici in 1554, and it seems that visitors could purchase or commission copies to be made by his assistants.
Fragments from what might be a newspaper on the back of the picture show that it was once in a German-speaking country.
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