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Michiel Coxcie, 'A Man with a Skull', about 1560 or later

Key facts
Full title A Man with a Skull
Artist Michiel Coxcie
Artist dates born between 1498 and 1500; died 1592
Date made about 1560 or later
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 97 × 75.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1845
Inventory number NG195
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Man with a Skull
Michiel Coxcie

This seemingly straightforward portrait was one of the National Gallery’s most controversial purchases of the nineteenth century. Bought in 1845 as ‘the Gallery’s first Holbein’, its authenticity was quickly cast into doubt. Recent dendrochronological analysis of the panel – a method of determining the age of a piece of wood by analysing its pattern of rings – shows that it was made after Holbein’s death.

We're not sure who the sitter was, but the coat of arms in the upper corner suggests he came from Brussels or Leuven or the surrounding area and is probably a member of the Heverlee family. Michiel Coxcie was the most important portrait painter working in Brussels when this was made, and stylistic comparison with his other paintings confirms him as the artist.

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