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Pieter van der Plas, Portrait of a Man

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Man
Artist Pieter van der Plas
Artist dates about 1595 - about 1650
Date made about 1640
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 71.5 × 59.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Presented by C. Lofft, 1839
Inventory number NG175
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Portrait of a Man
Pieter van der Plas

This man is unnamed, but his pilgrim’s staff and the tiny vision of Christ’s triumph over death seem to make it clear that he has been or is about to go on a pilgrimage. He focuses on a distant goal, the figure of Christ looking down as if watching over him. His clothes are plain – those of a pilgrim. On his staff hangs a gourd for water, ordained as mandatory by a pope in the Middle Ages.

As far as we know, the artist lived all his life in Flanders, the part of the Low Countries that remained Catholic after the Spanish rulers left. Only four of his signed works exist, so his life is something of a mystery, though he was master of the local guild of painters for some years. Although he has signed this picture, sadly he has not named his sitter. The man’s finger points down to an empty scroll, probably intended to show his name. Either it remained empty or the name has faded with time.

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