Lot 11
  • 11

ATTRIBUTED TO ALBRECHT DÜRER | Portrait of a man against a green background

300,000 - 400,000 GBP
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  • Albrecht Dürer
  • Portrait of a man against a green background
  • oil on parchment laid down on panel
  • 25.7 x 20.5 cm.; 10 1/8  x 8 1/8  in.


Waldstein family collection, Germany and Czech Republic (their seal on the reverse of the panel); Vischer-Forcart family collection, probably inv. no. 25, and by descent (according to an old handwritten label on the reverse);

Anonymous sale ('The Property of a Lady of Title'), London, Christie's, 6 November 1964, lot 75, for 5,500 guineas to Weitzner (as German School, circa 1520, and described as dated 1523);

Acquired by the father of the present owner there or shortly thereafter;

Thence by descent.


Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Madrid, Fundación Caja Madrid, Durero y Cranach: Arte y humanismo en la Alemania del Renacimiento, 9 October 2007 – 6 January 2008, no. 103 (as Dürer, possibly painted in the 1490s); Frankfurt, Städel Museum, Dürer: Kunst–Kunstler–Kontext, 23 October 2013 – 2 February 2014, no. 4.7 (as attributed to Dürer circa 1495/1500).


F. Anzelewsky, Albrecht Dürer, Das malerische Werk, Berlin 1971, pp. 148–49, cat. no. 47, reproduced plate 48 (listed under autograph works, as probably by Dürer circa 1497/98; as acquired by the present owner from the London art market in 1952); A. Janeck, 'Dürer Colloquium in Nürnberg', in Kunstchronik, vol. XXV, 1972, p. 196;

M. Levey, 'To honour Albrecht Dürer. Some 1971 Manifestations', in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXIV, no. 827, February 1972, p. 68 (as not by Dürer);

D. Kuhrmann, 'Fedja Anzelewsky, Albrecht Dürer, Das Malerische Werk' (book review), in Kunstchronik, vol. XXVI, 1973, p. 294 (as not convincingly by Dürer);

W. Stechow, 'Recent Dürer Studies' (Anzelewsky 1971 book review), in The Art Bulletin, vol. LVI, no. 2, June 1974, p. 260 (as not by Dürer);

W.L. Strauss, 'Albrecht Dürer, Das Malerische Werk by Fedja Anzelewsky' (book review), in Art Journal, vol. 34, no. 4, 1975, p. 374 (as 'difficult to be immediately convinced of its authenticity');

F. Anzelewsky, Albrecht Dürer. Das malerische Werk, Berlin 1991, p. 150, cat. no. 47, reproduced in colour plate 41, fig. 50 (as Dürer);

M. Mende, 'Dürer als Maler. Zur Neuausgabe des Kataloges der Gemälde durch Fedja Anzelewsky', in Mitteilungen des Vereins für Geschichte der Stadt Nürnberg, vol. 79, 1992, p. 141, footnote 18 (as not by Dürer, nor from Nuremberg);

W. Prinz, Dürer Catalogo Completo, Florence 1996, pp. 102-03, cat. no. 18, reproduced plate 33 (as Dürer, datable to 1497/98[?]);

B. Brinkmann, in Deutsche Gemälde im Städel 1500–1550, B. Brinkmann and S. Kemperdick (eds), Mainz 2005, pp. 150–52 (as Martin Caldenbach);

T.-H. Borchert et al., Durero y Cranach: Arte y humanismo en la Alemania del Renacimiento, exhibition catalogue, Madrid 2007, pp. 272 (Spanish) and 529 (English), cat. no. 103, reproduced p. 284 (as Dürer, possibly painted in the 1490s); 

N. Wolf, Albrecht Dürer, Munich 2010, p. 277, cat. no. FW 4, reproduced in colour p. 277 (under 'Works not included in the catalogue (doubtful works)', as convincingly assigned to Caldenbach by Brinkmann and Kemperdick 2005);

J. Sander (ed.), in Dürer: Kunst–Kunstler–Kontext, exhibition catalogue, Munich 2013, p. 111, cat. no. 4.7, reproduced in colour p. 110 (as attributed to Dürer circa 1495/1500).


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Attributed to Albrecht Durer. Portrait of a Man. This painting is on parchment glued onto panel. The uneven surface suggests that patchy dry old glue remained when this was later reglued. Old folds or creases slant across the centre. The green background has clearly suffered, possibly when a final copper resinate green glaze, which had turned brown naturally, was mistaken for old varnish and also removed despite being closely linked to the underlying paint layer. The dark of the hair has also been worn in places, with patchy retouching. Other uneven retouching is visible across the background, and in various places under ultra violet light. The head itself seems to have survived rather well essentially, with the underlying paler areas such as the neck and around the eyes apparently little touched, while warm patches of possibly superficial old retouching, probably accreted over several periods can also be traced, both within the head, and elsewhere - as the glue has behind. This report was not done under laboratory conditions
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Catalogue Note

This arresting portrait of a man was introduced into the corpus of works attributed to perhaps the greatest figure of the Northern Renaissance – Albrecht Dürer – when Fedja Anzelewsky published the first major monograph written on the artist in 1971. Since that time, the autograph status of the painting has divided scholars, many of whom have had the opportunity to study the work first-hand in two major exhibitions devoted to Dürer and his time in the last ten years. What strikes one immediately is this man’s penetrating stare, depicted with forensic detail and distinct characterisation. It is a portrait clearly born out of the tradition of realism initiated by artists such as Hans Pleydenwurff in the second half of the fifteenth century, which Dürer would inherit and, as with all art forms that he treated, subsequently develop and surpass. The man portrayed appears to be approaching middle age. He is shown wearing a dark, blue-grey cloak lined with light brown fur over a black coat or shirt. Both this and his wiry, tousled hair are painted somewhat summarily – the texture of the fur suggested with small, scattered strokes of  darker colour and white highlights; the curly hair defined in the strands which bounce away from his head and over his temples and forehead, with variegated shades of brown and swirling strokes. This relatively schematic execution is in contrast to, and consequently heightens, the rather merciless naturalism with which the man’s features are depicted. The skin of his neck appears lined and loose, the mole on his cheek is prominent and represented in unpitying detail, its surface and each bristle carefully picked out, and there is stubble surrounding his upper and lower lips. Dominating his face, though, are his deep-set, piercing eyes, each highlighted by the light source coming from the left, as he looks out beyond the picture in the opposite direction.

The painting is executed on parchment laid on walnut panel (not on oak, as it has been described in previous publications). A number of portraits from this time are painted on vellum laid on panel, sometimes due to later conservation intervention, but often conceived as such from the outset. Artists could use the parchment like tracing paper – by treating it with linseed oil it would become transparent, enabling the artist to draw the contours of the sitter before them directly onto the parchment, before it was glued down, thus saving the need to prepare the panel itself.1 Due to the pigments employed here, the skin tones have become more transparent over time, revealing the underdrawing, which would originally have been invisible beneath a more opaque painted surface. What is now fascinatingly apparent, however, is that this drawing was executed in a free, assured hand, and that the artist adapted his design when actually applying the paint: the position of the mole has shifted to the right, the line of the forehead has been moved back (or the artist has decided against depicting the sitter wearing a hat), and the contour of his jawline has been filled out slightly.

Anzelewsky first published this portrait in 1971 among autograph works by Dürer, with a small qualification: ‘ein vermutlich von Dürer in den Jahren 1497/98 gemaltes Bildnis’ (‘probably by Dürer circa 1497/98’). This attribution was disputed in the reviews of his monograph which followed throughout the '70s, as scholars found the painting to strike an unconvincing note amidst the rest of Dürer’s recognised œuvre (see Literature). No alternative attribution was suggested, however, until 2005, when Dr Bodo Brinkmann considered the painting in relation to the portrait of Jakob Stralenberger by Martin Caldenbach, called Hess (circa 1480–1518) in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt (see Literature; fig. 1).2 Comparatively little is known of Caldenbach, and only a small number of graphic works can be attributed to him with complete certainty. He undoubtedly met Dürer and quite possibly trained with him in Nuremberg before he took over the workshop of his father, Hans, in Frankfurt am Main, where he also worked for the Bürgermeister Jakob Heller (1460–1522).

Brinkmann proposes an attribution to Caldenbach for the present portrait largely on the basis of comparison of the rendering of the men’s features: the elliptical eyes with drooping, reddened eyelids, the presence of only a few eyelashes just at the corners of each eye, the emphasis given to the distinctive shapes of their noses, the formation of their mouths – narrow lips turned down at the corners giving each sitter a tense, determined expression, not to mention the naturalistic depiction of their moles. Brinkmann sees similarities in the way the fur pelts are executed and in the perspective of the sitters’ poses, where the furthermost shoulder subsides, with the collar on that side disproportionately narrower than the other, their bodies subjected to an artificially heightened perspective.

There are some marked differences in the underdrawing of the Städel portrait and the present work: there is a great concentration on the differentiation between hair and beard in Caldenbach’s portrait, unlike the mass of undefined curls in the design of the present work; and the rather sparing detail accorded to the face of Stralenberg is in contrast to the more linear definition of the features here, which are even reinforced with a liquid brushstroke.3 But Brinkmann finds points of comparison in the draughtsmanship, in the shading, and in the way the edge of the fur collar is suggested in both designs with a sequence of individual hooks or strokes. Recently Dr Joshua Waterman, Dr Guido Messling, and Dr Christof Metzger have all found the tentative attribution of the present portrait to Caldenbach to be plausible, whereas Dr Michaela Schedl disagrees, and with only one independent portrait believed to be by the artist to compare it with, this suggestion must remain hypothetical.4 

Anzelewsky dated the present painting to the second half of the 1490s, largely through noting similarities with the portrait of Dürer’s father in the National Gallery, London, but that painting is now no longer considered autograph.5 The present work follows the tradition of portraiture in southern Germany in the second half of the fifteenth century for setting a bust-length figure against a monochromatic background, which Dürer employed in the (now separated) diptych of his parents, executed at the beginning of the decade (incidentally also picturing them against green).6 The present work owes much to the move towards – sometimes unflattering – naturalism, found particularly in portraits of ageing men, where each physiognomic detail, each wrinkle and hair, was rendered in as lifelike a way as possible. Influenced by Netherlandish artistic practices, perhaps the most important early example of the autonomous panel-portrait genre in Germany and the tendency toward realism, is Hans Pleydenwurff’s portrait of Georg, Count of Löwenstein as an old man, painted in 1456 – also on vellum, mounted on limewood.7 Also out of this tradition comes Dürer’s father’s own silverpoint Self-portrait of 1486,8 and must have provided much of the inspiration for his portrait by the young Dürer mentioned above, which reflects his father’s lined face, wrinkled neck and the bags under his eyes. Both Dr Daniel Hess and Dr Fritz Koreny recognise the present portrait’s debt to this artistic context, but do not connect it with either Dürer or Caldenbach. Dr Hess places it in Southern Germany in the last decade of the fifteenth century, while Dr Koreny points to the loose brushwork as tending more to a Saxonian, rather than Franconian, origin and believes it to date from the early 16th century.9

Dürer painted his self-portrait now in the Louvre in 1493, but did not complete another portrait before 1497 – the ‘Fürleger portraits’ (with loose hair and hair done up) – and it was not until 1499 that he executed portraits which were certainly commissioned, by which time he was working on a new level of characterisation and employing a portrait type in which the sitters are placed before elaborate drapery and landscape views. In the Tucher portraits of 1499, however, one may find certain correspondences with the present portrait, namely in the hard red contouring of the eyelid in the portrait of Felicitas Tucher, the uneven foreshortening of the eyes in the portrait of Hans XI Tucher, and in the general flatness of the sitters’ shoulders and chests.10 These qualities are in stark contrast to the ambitious and highly finished portrait of Oswolt Krell from the same year,11 his face and torso modelled to an extraordinary level of naturalism and convincing volume.12 Also absent from the eyes of the Tucher likenesses – and the present work – are the characteristic reflections of a mullion and transom window, which invariably appear in other Dürer portraits.

A variance in execution of portraits from these years is not impossible to explain, however, as a conscious decision on the part of the artist, a function of the demands of the portrait type, and a variety in the degrees of completion: the Tucher portraits are rendered with a much freer brush than that of the meticulous portrait of Krell, for instance, which is also elevated by its large size and elaborate design as a triptych with marbling on the reverse, undoubtedly at the confident sitter’s behest and considerable expense. As Dr Jochen Sander has suggested (see Literature), if the present work is also considered to be an autograph work by the master from the late 1490s, perhaps the cursory execution of the clothing, and the choice of the economical, monochromatic background, reflect a shorter amount of time available for the work, a lower specification and purchase price from its patron, and a consequent adaptation of execution by the artist, who nevertheless imbues the portrait with a powerful individualisation. Indeed, in a letter to Jakob Heller of 1509, Dürer complained of the meagre reward he received from detailed, high quality works, in contrast to less demanding ‘gmaine gmäll’ (‘common paintings’), of which: ‘[…] I can make a large number in a year, such as no one would believe it possible that one man could do it. With something like this one can make a profit. But painstaking work does not get you anywhere’.13

1 The technique is a variation of that coincidentally known as the ‘Dürerscheibe’, whereby an artist would draw onto a pane of glass, from which he would transfer the design; for further discussion, see D. Hess and O. Mack, 'Luther am Scheideweg oder der Fehler eines Kopisten? Ein Cranach-Gemälde auf dem Prüfstand', in Original - Kopie - Zitat: Kunstwerke des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit, W. Augustyn and U. Söding (eds), Passau 2010, pp. 285ff.

2 Oil on limewood, 40.8 x 28.1 cm.; inv. no. 1739; see Brinkmann 2005, pp. 142–52, reproduced in colour p. 143.

3 See Brinkmann 2005, p. 142, reproduced p. 144, fig. 110.

4 Written correspondence, February–May 2018. For the most recent scholarship and further information about Martin and Hans Caldenbach, see M. Schedl, Tafelmalerei der Spätgotik am südlichen Mittelrhein, Mainz 2016, pp. 292–317 and 531–54. Schedl also attributes the portraits of Claus and Margarete Stalburg, the wings of an altarpiece, now in the Städel Museum, Frankfurt, to Hans or Martin Caldenbach, a suggestion already proposed by Stephan Kemperdick (inv. nos 845 and 846; see Brinkmann and Kemperdick 2005, pp. 124–41, reproduced in colour p. 126, fig. 99).

5 Oil on limewood, 51 x 40.3 cm.; inv. no. NG1938; see S. Foister, Dürer’s Nuremberg legacy: The case of the National Gallery portrait of Dürer’s father, National Gallery online publication, pp. 4–6 (accessed 21.05.18).

6 Portrait of Barbara Dürer, oil on fir panel, 47 x 35.8 cm.; Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, inv. no. Gm 1160; and Portrait of Albrecht Dürer the Elder, oil on panel, 47.5 x 39.5 cm.; Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, inv. no. 1086; see D. Hess and T. Eser (eds), The Early Dürer, exh. cat., London 2012, pp. 272–73, cat. nos 7 and 8, respectively, reproduced in colour.

7 33.3 x 24.4 cm.; Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, inv. no. Gm 128; see Hess and Eser 2012, p. 343, cat. no. 57, reproduced in colour.

8 Vienna, Albertina, inv. no. 4846; see Hess and Eser 2012, p. 266, cat. no. 3, reproduced in colour.

9 Written correspondence, April–May 2018.

10 All oil on limewood: Portrait of Elsbeth Tucher, 29.1 x 23.3 cm.; Kassel, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, inv. no. GK 6; Portrait of Hans XI Tucher, 29.7 x 24.7 cm.; Weimar, Klassik Stiftung Weimar, Schlossmuseum, inv. no. G 31; and Portrait of Felicitas Tucher, 29.8 x 24.4 cm.; also in Weimar, inv. no. G 32; see Hess and Eser 2012, pp. 353–55, cat. nos 63–65, respectively, reproduced in colour.

11 Triptych, oil on limewood, central panel: 49.7 x 38.9 cm.; Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek, inv. no. WAF 230; see Hess and Eser 2012, p. 345, cat. no. 59, reproduced in colour.

12 This disparity led Claus Grimm to dismiss the Tucher portraits from Dürer’s œuvre altogether; see C. Grimm, Meister oder Schüler? Berühmte Werke auf dem Prüfstand, Stuttgart 2002, pp. 41–45.

13 Translated from the German: ‘Den gmaine gmäll will ich ain jahr ain hauffen machen, das niemandt glaubte, das möglich were, das ain man thun möchte. An solchen mag man etwas gewinnen. Aber das fleisig kleiblen gehet nit von statten’; transcribed in H. Rupprich, Dürer. Schriftlicher Nachlass, vol. I, Berlin 1956, p. 72, lines 49–53.