We don’t know who the sitter in this almost postcard-sized portrait is. Although he wears the grey habit of a Franciscan, his hair is not tonsured – shaved on top as a sign of humility – as was customary for them. The precise identity of the artist is also uncertain, although he seems to have been a member of Robert Campin’s workshop.
Frame and support are carved from a single piece of oak, from the same tree as The Virgin and Child in an Interior, also by Campin’s workshop (though these were not painted by the same artist). This is possibly one of the earliest surviving portraits where the sitter rests his fingers on the frame, which would become a conventional pose in Netherlandish painting.
This tiny, almost postcard-sized portrait measures only 22.7 by 15.3 cm, including the frame. We do not know who the sitter is, and although he is wearing the grey habit of a Franciscan his hair is not tonsured – shaved on top as a sign of humility – as was customary for friars. He holds a scroll on which no trace of writing is visible. The precise identity of the artist is also uncertain, although he seems to have been a member of Robert Campin’s workshop.
The sitter’s face is strongly lit, and stands out powerfully against the dark blue background. His blue eyes gaze into the distance, and his features are slightly misaligned: his eyes don't look in the same direction, and his mouth is asymmetrical. The style of the face resembles that of the female donor in the Merode Triptych (The Met Cloisters, New York), as does the profile thumb. There’s a lack of interest in linear pattern, which is characteristic of the pictures associated with Campin himself, such as A Man and A Woman. Infrared reflectography has shown that the artist made various changes during the course of painting the picture. The sitter once held a book, his index finger apparently tucked into its pages – this was later changed to a scroll.
The gilding is not original, and technical analysis suggests that the frame and possibly the reverse were possibly originally decorated with pinkish marbling. The frame and support are carved out of one piece of wood, Baltic oak, from the same tree as The Virgin and Child in an Interior. Although both paintings are Campinesque in style, they do not appear to be by the same painter, and there are no traces of any hinges to indicate they were part of the same complex. The framed supports must have been made at the same time by the same panel-maker; presumably they were supplied to the same painter’s workshop but then, within that workshop, assigned to two different artists.
If the Virgin in an Interior was painted by Jacques Daret when he was working as Campin’s assistant, and if this painting is by one of his colleagues in Campin’s workshop, possibly the painter of the Merode donors, then both pictures could be dated before 1432, when Daret left the workshop. If this dating is correct, this is one of the earliest surviving portraits where the sitter rests his fingers on the frame, which would become a conventional pose in Netherlandish painting.
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