THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
Theron J. Blakeslee (d. 1914), New York;
His sale et al., New York, The American Art Association, 13–14 April 1899, lot 51 (as Christoph Amberger, 'Portrait of a nobleman', reproduced), for $1000;
Stanford White, New York;
Mr Robert de Forest (1848–1931), New York, by 1925;
By inheritance to his wife Emily de Forest (d. 1942), New York;
By whom sold, New York, American Art Association, 29–30 January 1936, lot 243 (as Barthel Beham, 'Portrait of a nobleman', reproduced);
Acquired there or shortly thereafter by the present owner.
C. L. Kuhn, A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections, Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 57, no. 218 (as Barthel Beham, Portrait of a bearded man);
L. Fudickar, Die Bildniskunst der Nürnberger Barthel Beham und Peter Gertner, Diss., Munich 1942, pp. 25–26, no. 30a;
K. Löcher in Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon, Saur (ed.), 1994, vol. 8, p. 289;
K. Löcher, Bartel Beham: ein Maler aus dem Dürerkreis, Munich–Berlin 1999, pp. 167, 195, no. 24, reproduced on p. 162.
Here Barthel shows the duke at the age of forty. He wears a black robe with a wide fur collar over a pleated white shirt. Fixed to the brim of his broad black cap, its slits fastened by paired gold tassels, are hat ornaments that include four gold rosette-shaped pins and a large gold-rimmed curvilinear badge, whose central motif depicts a classically-inspired scene, perhaps carved into a semi-precious material. Fur and hair are rendered with meticulous precision and the image overall has a strong three-dimensional quality that conveys a strong sense of physical realism.
Barthel Beham, whose birth date is known from an inscription dated 1531on a portrait medal by Ludwig Neufahrer of the artist at the age of 29,2 and his older brother Sebald (1500–1550), were renowned as painters as well as printmakers. Barthel worked in his native Nuremberg until 1525 when, together with his brother and Georg Pencz (c. 1500–1550), he was expelled on account of his religious and political views, which were out of sympathy with the city’s Lutheran doctrine. Although he was permitted to return some months later, Barthel left the city for good in 1527, moving to the Catholic city of Munich, where he was employed by the Bavarian dukes Wilhelm IV (1493–1550) and his brother Ludwig X. Celebrated for his skill as an engraver, Barthel’s printed portraits are rare. Of the very few engraved portraits by him that are known, one dated 1531 depicts Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (1500–1558), and another of the following year shows Duke Ludwig, the sitter of the present work.
Beham first painted Duke Ludwig in 1530 in an imposing half-length portrait comparable to the work of Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8–1543) – a pioneer in this field – that has the Duke facing the viewer full-square (Alte Pinakothek, Munich). A year later – four years prior to this painting – Beham created another commanding likeness of the Duke, also of half-length format but with his head turned towards the right, which was to prove influential for subsequent likenesses in both paint and print. The present portrait stems from that image, which is dated 1531 and is now in the Princely Collections Liechtenstein, Vaduz–Vienna,3 but it also introduces some variations. The Liechtenstein portrait was conceived as a pendant to a portrait of Ursula von Weichs, separated from its companion in the mid-twentieth century and now at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.4 This portrait on the other hand is unlikely to have formed half of a pair since no pendant is known. According to Löcher it may have been conceived as part of a series of smaller portraits known as the small Wittelsbach series.5 Its quality speaks of its autograph status and sets it apart from a number of workshop versions discussed below.
In this portrait Barthel captures Ludwig close-up. He omits the sitter’s hands, as well as the curtain backdrop adopted for the Liechtenstein pair. Its clarity of design relies partly on the plain, uniformly lit backdrop that is without shadows and partly on its concentration on the combined effect of brown beard, hanging moustaches and brown fur. The same textural effects of this portrait are conveyed to brilliant effect in a small engraving printed three years prior to the date of this painting, in which Ludwig is posed in identical fashion. The engraving adopts the same format but on a much reduced scale (fig. 1).6 The Duke’s beard and fur collar are conveyed with great subtlety in a medium ideally suited to the task of rendering subtle tonal variations. The engraving shares certain features of dress, such as the neckline, with this painting but there are also notable differences and the painting cannot be said to replicate the design of the print. The hat for instance, frames the head differently; in the painted portrait there is no glimpse of a metal chain; and the Duke’s brow is less furrowed, less careworn than in the engraving. It is possible that the portraits, both in printed and painted form, were based on a drawing that is no longer extant.
This pose is reversed and changes are introduced in a portrait of 1536 that is part of the small Wittelsbach series housed today at Schloβ Berchtesgaden, which Löcher considers to be a workshop product.7 Also by the workshop according to Löcher, is a slightly modified version of this portrait in reverse now in the Galleria Borghese, Rome.8 The Borghese portrait is inscribed with the same wording as the 1532 engraving. Since it relies on the composition of this portrait dated 1535, the reliability of the inscription to determine the date of the portrait is questionable. It suggests the engraving’s Latin inscription was applied to a replica painted at some point after 1535. One further portrait of Duke Ludwig is an enlarged version of the Liechtenstein portrait now at Schloβ Frauenbühl, Winhöring, Bavaria, which bears the date 1535 and shows the Duke standing behind a parapet within a room articulated with a column on one side and a pilaster on the other.9
Barthel’s sharply characterised portraits of the Wittelsbach family and of the city’s leading families and government officials, share a tendency for the figures, turned at a slight angle to the picture plane and set against plain backgrounds, to fill the picture space. Here too, Barthel adopts that arrangement and achieves a clarity of line (seen for instance in the delicate painting of the eyebrows); a rich range of earth tones; and a remarkably pared-down look. Also dating from 1535, the same year as this work, is Beham’s equally arresting Portrait of Count Otto Heinrich, Elector Palatine, with its predominantly red and yellow tonality (Alte Pinakothek, Munich).10 For Löcher, this work in its characterisation and vivacity shares the same characteristics as the Munich portrait.11 In such works there are strong echoes of portraits painted by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) in the 1520s, but there is no documentary evidence that Beham ever studied alongside his fellow inhabitant of Nuremberg. Beham’s disarmingly direct way of presenting his sitters distinguishes his work from that of other German Renaissance painters of his age.
1. Térey 1925, p. 310.
2. Reproduced in Löcher 1999, p. 16, fig. 1.
3. Inv. no. GE 927; oil on softwood panel, 69 x 59 cm.; J. Kräftner (ed.), Liechtenstein Museum Vienna. The Collections, Munich 2004, no. V.9, reproduced in colour on. p. 151.
4. Inv. Nr. 6187; oil on softwood panel, 69.8 x 57.8 cm.; Löcher 1999, no. 58, reproduced in colour on. p. 119, plate 99.
5. Löcher suggests that the panel may have been reduced since its dimensions are slightly smaller compared to others in the series. The great Wittelsbach series was intended for the Munich Residenz.
6. 135 x 98 mm. W. H. Hollstein, Hollstein’s German engravings, etchings and woodcuts, Altzenbach – B. Beham, 92, Vol. II, Amsterdam 1954, p. 230, reproduced.
7. Inv. Nr. B I a 55; Oil on lime panel, 42.8 x 32.8 cm.; Löcher 1999, no. 25, reproduced on. p. 159, fig. 129.
8. Inv. no. 250; Oil on panel, 45 x 33 cm.; Löcher 1999, no. 23, reproduced on. p. 159, fig. 130.
9. Oil on panel, 84.5 x 66 cm.; Löcher 1999, no. 26, reproduced on. p. 121, fig. 100.
10. Inv. Nr. 5316; oil on lime panel, 43 x 32 cm.; Löcher 1999, no. 40, reproduced in colour on. p. 165, fig. 144.
11. Löcher 1999, pp. 166–67.
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