Old Master Paintings

Three of a Kind: Old Master Portraits

By Sotheby's
Ahead of the upcoming Old Masters sale on 8 May in London, we look at three very striking portraits from the 16th and 17th centuries. All three are by artists painting in the Lowlands of Northern Europe, and have values ranging from £6,000 to £40,000, allowing both new and seasoned collectors to participate in this important chapter in the history of European art.

1. Master Of The 1540s, Portrait of a man. Estimate £30,000–40,000.

So-named by Max J. Friedländer on account of the dates on a large number of his pictures (the earliest of which is dated 1541, the latest 1551), this anonymous master was, along with Anthonis Mor and Willem Key, one of the leading exponents of portraiture during the middle part of the sixteenth century. His style is however more akin with that of Joos van Cleve, of whom he is considered a follower, and whose death in 1540 coincides with this master's first dated work a year later.

This painting of a single, military figure standing in contemplation against an entirely plain background is a very rare image in Dutch art of this time, and all the more arresting as a result. One can almost draw parallels with the corresponding ideas, though entirely different styles, in the works of Diego Velázquez, and later Édouard Manet.

Duyster specialised in military scenes and group portraits, and this figure reappears almost exactly in his painting in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, where the soldier considers a woman kneeling in remorse; and a downward-looking cavalier is also found in Duyster's depiction of officers looking at jewellery, in the Kunstmuseum Basel.

As a follower of Frans Pourbus, the artist working on this portrait – likely a commission – would have been careful to include many of the trademark details of the Dutch painter's technique, resulting in a fine and delicately rendered interpretation of the distinctive style of his master. Pourbus himself worked at the court of the Archduke Albert and Isabella as well as being patronised by other European rulers such as Vicenzo Gonzaga I, 4thDuke of Mantua, Emperor Rudolf II, Charles-Emanuel I, 11th Duke of Savoy and Marie de’Medici. It is not surprising the that upper classes of the Lowlands would have aspired to have their likeness commemorated in the style of this much-lauded master.

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