Having previously been thought to be a portrait of Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham by Hans Holbein, and exhibited as such on several occasions in the nineteenth century, this painting came to the attention of scholars in the 1930s. Paul Ganz, writing in 1937 (op.cit), identified the sitter as Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk on the basis of comparison with the physiognomy in two known portraits of Brandon then in English collections.1 One of these was a portrait Ganz attributed to Holbein (ex Lord Donnington, destroyed circa 1939-45), of which there is a version in the National Portrait Gallery. The other, more tellingly, was the double portrait of Brandon and his wife (believed to be his third wife, Mary Tudor) the best known version of which is in the collection of the Duke of Bedford (Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire). In the latter of these, not only does the physiognomy correspond closely to that in the present painting, but the sitter wears the same gold medallion in his hat, engraved with an allegorical subject and the motto ‘je tiens… en sa cord…’. The Woburn Abbey portrait, now attributed to Jan Gossaert, was engraved by George Vertue in 1748 and its provenance can be traced back to Brandon himself.2 Both these paintings depict the sitter in later life, but in all three portraits the Duke wears the Garter Collar and Great George, and is distinguished by his square cut beard, solid build and prominent nose. Identifying four other portraits by the same unknown hand, two of which were believed to represent Mary Tudor, Ganz dubbed the artist The Master of Queen Mary Tudor.
Working independently the German scholar Max J. Friedländer published an article in the same year that offered a more convincing argument for the paintings authorship; one that has come to be widely accepted by modern scholars. Friedländer connected the portrait to a preparatory drawing for the head of a man from circa 1512-1515 in the Cabinet du Dessins, Musée du Louvre, Paris (fig. 1), drawn on the reverse of a Study of Four Girl’s Heads and Two Hands. The drawing had originally formed part of a sketchbook containing six sheets (known as the Klinkosch sketchbook, which was unbound and the pages dispersed in 1889), which Friedländer suggested were all the work of a follower of Gerard David (c.1460-1523), renaming the artist of all the assembled drawings the Master of the Brandon Portrait on the basis of the association with this painting. The attribution of the so-called Klinkosch drawings has been much debated and it is now accepted that the majority of the drawings are by David himself.3 Most recently, however, Ariane van Suchtelen, writing in 2012 in relation to this portrait and echoing Ainsworth and Lugt,4 has suggested that, whilst the Study of Four Girl’s Heads and Two Hands on the recto of the Louvre sheet is certainly the work of David, the Study for the Head of a Man on the verso is the work of another hand, probably an artist working in David’s studio, or closely associated with it.5 Whatever the attribution of the Klincosch drawings, it seems likely that Friedländer’s suggestion – that the artist he called the Master of the Brandon Portrait was probably a follower of Gerard David working in England – is correct. Friedländer attributed a further five portraits to the master, all of which are executed in a South Netherlandish style very close to that of David. In Suchtelen’s most recent article five portraits are given to the master, including the present painting, as well as a Portrait of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham (ex. Sotheby’s, 6 July 1983, lot 5, see fig. 2), a Portrait of a young man with a Sampson Medal (Mauritshuis, The Hague), and a Portrait of John Bourchier, 1st Baron Berners (National Portrait Gallery, London), together with another portrait of the same sitter (Private Collection, Scotland, see fig. 3). All these portraits express a similar calm dignity and are characterised both by the neat manner of their execution and the striking use of light in the modelling of the sitters’ heads. The two examples illustrated here also show striking similarities in both pose and dress.
Friedländer proposed three possible identifications for the anonymous master, all artists working in London in the third decade of the fifteenth century. The first two were Lucas Hornebout (1490/95-1544) and his father Gerard Hornebout (1465-1541), court painter and illuminator to Margaret of Austria (1480-1530), who worked in Ghent and Antwerp before coming to England at the age of nearly 60. The elder Hornebout’s name appears in accounts from Henry VIII’s household from 1528 to 1531, however he appears to have been primarily a miniature painter. The more likely suggestion is Jan Rav (fl. 1530s-40s), also known by the Latinised form Johannes Corvus. Rav entered the Bruges painters’ corporation in 1512, was living in England by circa 1530, and is said to have been connected with the Brandon household. A portrait of Brandon’s wife Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk (Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire), Dowager Queen of France and sister of Henry VIII, was once inscribed in Latin on the frame Joannes Corvus Flandrus Faciebat (John Raven of Flanders did this), and it is generally accepted that this artist can also be identified with the ‘Jehan Raf, peintre de Flandres’ who executed a map of England in 1532 and a ‘pourtraict de la ville de Londres’ in 1534 (destroyed) for Francis I of France, as well as the ‘John Raven born in Flanders’ who was granted denizenship in London in 1544.6
The present portrait was probably painted circa 1530, when Brandon was about 45 years old. He is depicted richly dressed in silk shirt, cloth of gold doublet and expensive fur lined cloak. In keeping with northern portraiture conventions his left hand rests on a parapet where the picture meets the base of the frame, thereby heightening the impression that he occupies three-dimensional space. The artist has combined strong directional lighting with a cool monochrome background typical of Netherlandish portraiture of the period. The shadows which line the left and upper edge of the panel create the pictorial illusion that they are cast by the frame itself, thus suggesting that the sitter is seen as if through an aperture.
Analysis of the tree-ring sequences of this panel has identified that the 2 boards of this panel were derived from different trees, both sourced from the eastern Baltic, which were still growing in 1486. A standard estimate for missing sapwood therefore indicates that these boards are likely to have been felled between circa 1494 and circa 1526. A full copy of the dendrochronology report by Ian Tyers is available upon request from the department and will be supplied to the buyer.
1. P. Ganz, op.cit.
2. The identification was questioned by Strong in 1969 (op.cit), however the presence of the medallion in the sitter’s hat, as well as the closeness of the physiognomy appear to be fairly conclusive. The identification was accepted by Ainsworth in 1998 and Suchtelen in 2012.
3. See M. Ainsworth, op.cit, p. 53, nt. 7.
4. See M. Ainsworth, op.cit, p. 37, and F. Lugt, Inventaire general des dessins des écoles du nord: Maîtres des anciens Pays-Bas nés avant 1550, Paris 1968, p. 20.
5. A. van Suchtelen, op.cit.
6. M. Edmond, Jan Rav, Grove Dictionary of Art (Oxford Art Online), 2007-2013.
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