Lot 5
  • 5

Attributed to Bernhard Strigel

150,000 - 200,000 GBP
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  • Bernhard Strigel
  • Portrait of a lady, bust-length, in a gold embroidered black dress and a white headdress, holding a sprig of nightshades and forget-me-nots
  • oil on panel


Acquired by the father of the present owner, 1964;

Thence by inheritance.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Attributed to Bernard Strigel. Portrait of a Lady. This painting is on a panel, which has been cradled probably around the turn of the last century. The cradle has a double support down the left side where the fine line suggests a joint, and a small extra plaque behind the top right corner where the painted diagonal suggests some early historical change. There are a few signs of old worm. The head itself is in extremely beautiful condition, having been apparently scarcely touched, with a fine minute craquelure and one tiny lost flake in the lower lip. The detail in the lower bust and drapery also appears well preserved. There are patches of apparent blanching in the old varnish of the black drapery, which may be strengthened in places. The resinous green of the background has had fairly frequent old flaking damage in the upper right side, with old retouching visible under ultra violet light. The white headdress has a few, small, scattered retouchings across the central mainly finely intact area. Down the left side a fine line divides a seemingly retouched band, where UV suggests a differing strip with extra backing behind from perhaps a century ago. It is finely integrated and completely stable. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This portrait, which has survived in remarkable condition, was painted in Swabia at the turn of the 15th  to the 16th century. Given its exceptional quality it is perhaps surprising that a firm identification of its author has so far proven elusive. The painting is, however, here attributed to Bernhard Strigel, one of the leading artists active in the region at the time, and we are grateful to Prof. Till-Holger Borchert for his tentative endorsement of this attribution.

The portrait has its roots in the portraiture of Hans Holbein the Elder, after Dürer perhaps the most influential artist in Germany at the time, as may be seen by comparison with his Portrait of a woman formerly in the Cook collection.1 It is however more closely comparable with portraits by Strigel, particularly the Portrait of a woman (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), the Portrait of Eva von Schwarzenberg (Private collection) and the Portrait of a woman (Collections of the Princes of Liechtenstein, Vaduz).2

The style of dress recalls that of the ex-Cook Holbein. The sitter would appear to be of a high social standing, probably the wife of a rich burgher. The headdress, with its stitched band reminiscent of those in many other Swabian portraits of the late fifteenth century, such as the anonymous Portrait of a woman of the Hofer family at the National Gallery, London, denotes her married status.3 She holds a sprig of forget-me-nots (as does the sitter in the Hofer portrait) and bittersweet nightshade, the former the traditional signifier of remembrance, while the latter though more ambiguous in its meaning is also included as a decorative motif on her dress and would seem thus to have a deeper significance than is so far apparent. It is a flower that features in Dürer’s famous print Melancholia and was traditionally used to treat convulsions and epilepsy. Its double usage here may, however, simply reflect in some way the sitter’s identity.  

1. N. Lieb and A. Stange, Hans Holbein der Ältere, Berlin 1960, pp. 69–70, cat. no. 34, reproduced fig. 118.

2. G. Otto, Bernhard Strigel, Munich and Berlin 1964, p. 106, cat. no. 82, reproduced fig. 149; p. 105, cat. no 79, reproduced fig. 146; p. 106, cat. no. 84, reproduced fig. 151.

3. C. Baker and T. Henry, The National Gallery. Complete lllustrated Catalogue, London 1995, p. 651, reproduced.