Lot 4
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NETHERLANDISH OR SOUTH GERMAN SCHOOL, LATE 15TH CENTURY | Portrait of Mary of Burgundy (1458–1482), in profile

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
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  • Portrait of Mary of Burgundy (1458–1482), in profile
  • oil on oak panel  
  • 47.5 x 35 cm.; 18 ¾ x 13 ¾ in.


John Rushout, 2nd Baron Northwick (1769-1859), Connaught Place, London and Thirlestane House, Cheltenham; His sale, London, Christie's, 24 May 1838, lot 39 (as by Bernard van Orley), bought in at 29 guineas;

His posthumous sale, on the premises, Thirlestane House, Phillips, 26 July 1859, sixth Day's sale, 3 August, lot 595 (as Jan Hemmelinck) for £37. 16s.;

There acquired by Baron James de Rothschild (1792-1868), Paris;

His daughter, Charlotte, Baroness Nathaniel de Rothschild (1825–1899), Paris;

By descent to her grandson Baron Henri de Rothschild (1872–1947), Ferrières;

By inheritance to one of his three children;

With Dr Frederick Mont (1894–1994), New York, by 1965;

Acquired by the father of the present owner by 1967;

Thence by descent.


Bern, Bernisches Historisches Museum, Die Burgunderbeute und Werke Burgundischer Hofkunst, 18 May – 20 September 1969, no. 126; Kreuzlingen, Evangelisches Kirchgemeindehaus, Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Heinz Kisters, 17 July – 8 August 1971, no. 10;

Innsbruck, Schloss Ambras, ‘Hispania–Austria’, Die katholische Könige Maximilan I. und die Anfänge der Casa de Austria in Spanien, 3 July – 20 September 1992, no. 10;

Brixen, Augustiner Chorherrenstift Neustift, Michael Pacher und sein Kreis: Ein Tiroler Künstler der europäischen Spätgotik, 25 July – 31 October 1998, no. 31a;

Beaune, Hospices Civils de Beaune, Marie l’Héritage de Bourgogne, 18 November 2000 – 28 February 2001;

Burgos, Centro Cultural Casa del Cordón, and Bruges, Church of Our Lady, 28 September – 30 December 2006 and 7 February – 1 April 2007, La belleza y la locura. Felipe I el Hermoso, Rey de Castilla y último Duque de Borgoa (Brujas 1478–Burgos 1506) (as Michael Pacher c. 1490);

Valencia, El Almudín: Museo de la ciudad, A la busqueda del Toison de oro. La Europa de los Principes. La Europa de las Ciudades, 23 March – 30 June 2007, no. 99 (as Michael Pacher);

Bern, Bernisches Historisches Museum, and Bruges, Bruggemuseum and Groeningemuseum, 25 April – 24 August 2008 and 27 March – 21 July 2009, Charles the Bold (14331477): Splendour of Burgundy, no.166 (as Michael Pacher).


R. Wyss, in Die Burgunderbeute und Werke Burgundischer Hofkunst, exhibition catalogue, Berne 1969, p. 327, cat. no. 216, reproduced fig. 299 (as Netherlandish or French [?], circa 1470–75); Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Heinz Kisters, exhibition catalogue, Kreuzlingen 1971, p. 17, cat. no. 10, reproduced on the front cover (as Netherlandish or French, 15th century);

W. Paravicini, ‘Karl der Kühne, das Ende des Hauses Burgund’, in Persönlichkeit und Geschichte, vol. 94/95, Göttingen 1976, pp. 64–65, reproduced fig. 8;

F. Elsener et al., 500 Jahre Stanser Verkommnis, Beiträge zu einem Zeitbild, Stans 1981, reproduced p. 31, fig. 7;

G. Bonsanti, ‘Maria di Borgogna in un Ritratto di Michael Pacher’, in Paragone, no. 397, March 1983, pp. 13–39, figs 6, 25–30 (as Michael Pacher);

W. Prevenir and W. Blockmans, Die burgundischen Niederlände, Cambridge 1986, reproduced p. 256, fig. 218;

A. Rosenauer, in ‘Hispania–Austria’, Die katholische Könige Maximilan I. und die Anfänge der Casa de Austria in Spanien, exhibition catalogue, Madrid 1992, pp. 274–95, cat. no. 91, reproduced fig. 91 (as Michael Pacher c. 1490);

C. Talbot, ‘Master H. A. or A. H., Tirol (?) 1528’, in The Robert Lehman Collection II: Fifteenth- to Eighteenth-Century European Paintings, New York 1998, p. 37 and p. 42, nn. 3 and 8, reproduced fig. 8.3 (doubting the attribution to Pacher);

A. Rosenauer in Michael Pacher und sein Kreis: Ein Tiroler Künstler der europäischen Spätgotik, exhibition catalogue, Brixen 1998, p. 206, cat. no. 31A, reproduced (as attributed to Michael Pacher);

H. Müller, 'Zwischen Stolz und Größe', in DAMALS. Das aktuelle Geschichtsmagazin: ‘Burgund’, Stuttgart 1999, reproduced p. 20;

P. Vandenbroeck in La belleza y la locura. Felipe I el Hermoso, Rey de Castilla y último Duque de Borgoa (Brujas 1478–Burgos 1506), exhibition catalogue, Burgos and Bruges 2006, pp. 32, 55 and 263, reproduced (as Michael Pacher [?], circa 1490);

F. Kisters in A la busqueda del Toison de oro. La Europa de los Principes. La Europa de las Ciudades, exhibition catalogue, Valencia 2007, p. 238, cat. no. 99, reproduced (as Michael Pacher);

A. Roberts, ‘The posthumous image of Mary of Burgundy’, in A. Pearson (ed.), Women and Portraits in Early Modern Europe: Gender Agency, Identity, Aldershot 2008, pp. 58–59, reproduced figs. 3.3 and 3.4 (x-ray image);

S. Marti, T.H-Borchert and G. Keck (eds), Charles the Bold (1433–1477): Splendour of Burgundy, exhibition catalogue, Brussels 2008, pp. 20, 32, 354, cat. no. 166, reproduced fig. 12 and plate 79 (as Michael Pacher);

M. Kurzel-Runstcheiner (ed.), in Habsburg splendour: masterpieces from Vienna’s imperial collections at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, exhibition catalogue, Minneapolis, Institute of Arts, Houston, Museum of Fine Arts and Atlanta, High Museum of Art, 2015, p. 78, under cat. no. 4 (as a work of ca. 1477-82);

L. Madersbacher, Michael Pacher. Zwischen Zeiten und Räumen, Berlin 2015, reproduced fig. 331 (as very doubtfully by Pacher).


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Netherlandish or South German School, late 15th century, Portrait of Mary of Burgundy. This painting is on an oak panel with one central joint or old crack, which seems to have been thinned and backed with oak and cradled. Faint traces of ancient worm damage can be seen on the front near the base. There has clearly been cautious care over time and a recent careful restoration. The deep green of the drapery has never been harshly cleaned leaving the copper resinate glazing finely intact. Semi opaque varnish in the background veils slight old wear and old vertical retouching down the grain of the panel. A line of more recent retouching can be seen under ultra violet light down the central joint, with a few other small touches in the face, mainly on the cheek. The retouching down the central joint is rather stronger in the neck, with a further patch in the neck nearby. Past retouching is also just visible around the ruby in the veil on the left, and elsewhere in the black of the veil and in the shadow of the veil on the neck. Other more recent retouchings can be seen on the chin, and the cheek, with a possible horizontal scratch touched out across the breast. The edges have also been carefully restored where necessary. The underlying condition has remained extremely fine nevertheless, with the purity of the delicate portrait itself remaining intact. 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 beautiful and mysterious portrait depicts one of the most romantic and tragic female figures of the fifteenth century. At the age of only nineteen Mary of Burgundy was the sole heiress to the huge territories of the Duchy of Burgundy, and thus the wealthiest and most eligible woman in Europe. Remarkably, and against all the odds in an age of dynastic marriage politics, she found real happiness in her betrothal to the young Archduke (later Emperor) Maximilian of Austria, who described her as ‘the most beautiful woman’ he had ‘ever seen’. Her happiness was, however, to be cut short by her untimely death less than five years later in a hunting accident. This is one, and possibly the first, of a small group of likenesses of the Duchess that were most likely produced after her death, and the only one to remain in private hands.

Mary’s husband Maximilian was genuinely grief stricken at her death, and he clearly commissioned portraits of Mary as a reminder of her undoubted physical beauty and their happiness together. At the same time, however, a portrait like this served as proof and reminder of the vital Burgundian inheritance that Mary had brought to the Habsburg family. As Maximilian would have been well aware, such portraits of Mary of Burgundy equally became both symbol and justification of the new balance of power in Europe that she herself had helped bring about. Even in death, the tragic and beautiful Duchess remained of the greatest political importance. Born in Brussels in the winter of 1457 Mary of Burgundy was the daughter of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1433–1477) and his second wife Isabella of Bourbon (1434–1465). Though Charles married three times, Mary would be his only child. When he died at the Battle of Nancy on 5 January 1477, Mary became suo jure Duchess of Burgundy. As the sole heiress to the extensive Burgundian territories, Mary was not only exceptionally wealthy – she was often referred to as ‘Mary the Rich’ – but the most important marriage prospect in all Europe. Burgundy encompassed the area surrounding Dijon, Flanders, Picardy, and Brabant, and bordered France, Austria, and the English territories in the northeast part of continental Europe. The future of Mary and with it that of Burgundy was thus of utmost importance to the balance of power in Europe. The target of suitors from the age of five onwards, Mary’s hand was particularly and aggressively sought after by Louis XI of France for his son the Dauphin Charles, in order that he could secure the inheritance of the Low Countries for his heirs. French hopes were dashed when, in accordance with her father’s designs, Mary married the Archduke Maximilian of Austria (1459–1519; fig.1) on the 16 August 1477. Despite a short truce with the frustrated Louis XI, Maximilian was very soon forced to defend his wife’s dominions from French assault at the battle of Guinegate (1479). Indeed Mary of Burgundy’s marriage into the Hapsburg family was to usher in a period of conflict between France and the Hapsburgs (later Kings of Spain as well as Holy Roman Emperors) that would last over two hundred years.

Unusually for such a marriage, Mary and Maximilian seem to have very happy together. He was eighteen, a year younger than Mary, blond haired, elegant and well educated. He reputedly spoke seven languages. Like Mary he enjoyed hunting and riding. They had two surviving children together; the first, Philip the Fair (1477– 1506) succeeded to the Duchy of Burgundy and later became Philip I of Castile due to his marriage to Joanna ‘the Mad’. Their second child was a daughter named Margaret (1480–1530), who married firstly Juan, Prince of Asturias and secondly Philibert II, Duke of Savoy.1 Tragically, Mary died young in 1482 as a result of injuries sustained from a riding accident while hunting. She was buried in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges on the 3 April that year, where in accordance with her last will (dictated on her deathbed) Maximilian erected a tomb for her in the chancel. Maximilian grieved publicly for her and did not remarry for several years.

In this portrait Mary is shown wearing a rich green velvet dress with a square-cut bodice brocaded in gold. On her head she wears a tall white Burgundian hennin typical of the 1470s, with its veil hanging down behind her. A thick band of black material or lappert is pinned to it by a gold agrafe from which hangs a ruby jewel mounted in a gold brooch. Around her neck she wears two necklaces, one of interlocking gold rings, pendants and gemstones, the other of pearls and polished black stones. We know something of Mary’s actual appearance from Maximilian himself, and the features in the portrait seem to match his description. He described his young wife in a letter to his friend Siegmund Pruschenk thus:

'Sie ist schneeweiss, ein prauns Haar, ein kliens Nasl, ein kliens Häuptel und Antlitz, praun und graue Augen gemischt, schön und lauter…..Der Mund is etwas hoch, doch rein und rot'

(‘She has a snow white complexion, brown hair, a small nose, small head and face, mixed brown and gray eyes, pretty and bright… The mouth is rather high, yet clear and red.’)2

This is one of six similar profile portraits of the Duchess. One is in the Alte Galerie in the Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz (fig. 3), another is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Lehman Collection (fig. 4), and the other two are now in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, one in the Schatzkammer there (fig. 5), and the other on loan to Schloss Ambras in Innsbruck (fig. 6).3 The Museum also possesses a fragmentary copy of the Graz type.4 All but the present painting and that in New York have imperial Austrian provenance. No two of the group are the same, but they differ from each other only slightly in details of the costume and jewellery. The Duchess’s magnificent ruby, for example, is a constant in all of the images. The present portrait, the one in Innsbruck and that in Graz all face to the right, with only the present panel omitting the sitter’s hands. The others in New York and Vienna face to the left, with that in Vienna also showing the hands. The two Vienna portraits are, in addition, of a slightly longer half-length format, with brocaded cloth of honour backgrounds and windows as opposed to plain backgrounds for the other three, and that in Schloss Ambras further has a landscape painted beyond the window next to the sitter. These are the only pictures in the group which seem to have been painted by the same workshop. None of the paintings is signed or securely documented, but one, that in the Lehman Collection, has been found to bear the monogram(?) HA (or AH) on the reverse, together with the date 1528. The similarities between all five panels strongly suggest that they must all record a common source or lost prototype, which (to judge from the sitter’s costume) may have dated from the time of her marriage or shortly thereafter. Bearing in mind that a profile portrait would have been very rare outside Italy at this period, Talbot suggests that portrait medals, such as those made by Giovanni Candida to celebrate the marriage, might possibly have provided a suitable source for Mary’s likeness. One such medallion, dated 1479, shows Mary wearing a hennin headdress such as that in the portraits (fig. 2), though it may have been produced as late as 1500.5

Given the considerable elapse in time between Mary’s marriage in 1477 and the date on the last portrait version in New York in 1528, it is no surprise that the subject of the chronology and authorship of these panels has been the source of much debate. Of the group, two portraits, the present work and that in Graz, are painted on oak panels, which suggest that they were more likely painted in the Netherlands or perhaps in Burgundy, and thus may predate the others, which were painted in Austria or Germany. That in Graz, however, has an inscription which identifies the sitter as Maximilian’s first wife.6 If the inscription were genuine, this would mean the portrait could not have been painted before 1493, when Maximillian took Bianca Maria Sforza (1472–1510/11) as his second wife, but its very cramped form makes this uncertain. This has led to the idea, recorded by Wyss, that the present portrait might date as early as 1470–75, but as this would pre-date Mary’s marriage to Maximilian, which all other portraits, including the medals, commemorate, it seems highly unlikely. Bonsanti took this argument a stage further, arguing that the present panel was indeed the prime original from which all the others derive. He accepted that there might be a common prototype, suggesting a lost Netherlandish miniature as a probable source. He thereby suggested a dating around 1490, and advanced the Tyrolean painter Michael Pacher (fl. 1462–1498) as its author, an attribution which has been maintained in most of the recent exhibitions to feature this painting, but without firm evidence to support it, has not met with scholarly acceptance. The use of oak for the panel, for example, would be highly unusual for Pacher, for whom pine was a preferred support. Pacher certainly had no reputation as a portraitist, and his style is quite different from the more linear qualities shown in the present panel.

That a portrait of Mary of Burgundy painted for Maximilian existed by 1500 is, however, certain, for a likeness of the Duchess commissioned by the future Emperor was among a group of portraits in ‘possession of the painter in Schwaz’ in 1500, which Maximilian thrice ordered the authorities in Innsbruck to return to him in Augsburg.7 This is very probably the same painter as the ‘Hans, Maler von Schwaz’, who was paid fifteen gulden in August 1510 for two panels portraying Mary of Burgundy.8 These have therefore been identified with the portraits of Mary in Vienna and Innsbruck. Their authorship, however, as well as that of the version in Graz is problematical. The artist ‘Hans’ has been tentatively identified with Hans Maler (c. 1480–c. 1526) a painter from Ulm active in Schwaz,9 and also with Niclas Reiser (fl. 1498–1512), similarly active in Schwaz around 1500.10 The date of 1500 would be early for Hans Maler, while the attribution to Reiser, who was appointed court painter in 1498, and whose work is otherwise obscure, remains circumstantial only. If the portraits of Mary of Burgundy in the Schatzkammer in Burgundy and Schloss Ambrass are indeed by the same hand, then their author must have been aware of the recent portraits of Maximilian as Emperor painted by Bernhard Strigel (1461–1528), notably that of 1507 formerly in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg (fig. 8), in which a very similar profile half-length format is employed.11

Certainly, that the present portrait type (or something very like it) was indeed in circulation in southern Germany at this date is attested to by the inclusion of a portrait of this type on a sheet of figure studies by Hans Holbein the Elder or his circle, today in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankurt (fig. 9).12 There are, however, a number of differences between the drawing and the present painting; there is another element to the headdress visible beneath the lappert, and the cone of the hennin is clearly patterned and not plain. The drawing is curiously inscribed ‘Hester’, which may perhaps indicate that it was only ever intended as a character or costume study. Recent x-rays and Infra-red images of the present panel itself do not offer a solution to these various problems, but they do reveal some interesting changes (figs 7 and 10). These show, for example, that the necklace originally continued over the edge of the bodice, and that several of the contours were strengthened. More interestingly perhaps, the Duchess’s ruby appears in the original paint layer to be set in a six-lobed brooch with three hanging pearls, of a type which is very similar to those in the portraits in Graz and Vienna.

The similarities among all of these versions, and the period of time over which they were painted, seem to indicate that a comprehensive program of producing court images of Mary of Burgundy was clearly under way in the early sixteenth century at Maximilian’s court. The use of the profile format, however, was unusual in northern portraiture at this date. The new fashion for it may well have been imported from Italy through the work of the Milanese painter Giovanni Ambrogio de’ Predis (c. 1455–1510), who painted other profile portraits of Maximilian’s second wife Bianca Maria Sforza (Washington, National Gallery of Art and Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) and travelled to Innsbruck in her retinue for her marriage in 1493. He later painted Maximilian himself in profile in 1502.13 At the same time, Maximilian would also have been mindful of the official profile portraits of his father, the Emperor Frederick III (1415–1493), painted around 1468, copies of which were commissioned from Hans Burgkmair the Elder.

Although there is a long-standing tradition that the present likeness was painted in Mary’s lifetime, it seems probable that all the versions of this portrait were posthumous. However, its claim to be the earliest of the known versions of this portrait type remains to be disproved. Its distinctive style is rather flatter and more linear than the court types produced around 1500–10, and it is the most likely of the group to be of Netherlandish or Burgundian origin.14 All the other versions, with the possible exception of that in Graz, which shares an oak support, were most probably painted around or shortly after 1500 in Austria and southern Germany.15 The date of 1528 on the Lehman version confirms that this profile portrait type still had currency at least two or even three decades later. As Talbot notes, the fact that the Hapsburgs owed their territories in the Netherlands to Mary’s marriage with Maximilian, meant her portrait continued to have ‘contemporary as well as historical significance even long after Maximilian’s death in 1519’.16 The commissioned profile portraits of Mary of Burgundy were perhaps intended to complement those of Maximilian himself painted by Bernhard Strigel and his workshop. The latter’s images of the Emperor and his second wife Bianca Maria Sforza (1472–1510/11) (fig. 11), all now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, were produced in the same style. All these portraits clearly formed part of a pictorial program designed to enhance Mary’s image and her importance as Maximilian’s first wife. Roberts has suggested that because the imperial associations with the profile reached back to antiquity, for example in terms of sculpture or medals, the paintings might have been intended to enhance Maximilian’s campaign to have himself crowned Holy Roman Emperor after 1493.17 That they formed part of dynastic policy is beyond doubt, but there is much to suggest that the portraits like this must also have served as a reminder to Maximilian of a very happy marriage. Nor was his devotion to Mary confined to the fine arts. Maximilian’s idealized notions of his marriage found expression in his allegorical poem entitled the Theuerdank (1517), which tells a fictionalized and romanticized account of his journey across Europe to marry Mary in 1477. The historian Johannes Cuspinian (1473–1529) wrote in his De Caesaribus et Imperatoribus that even late in life the Emperor still ‘carried her image in his heart'.18


1 A third child, Francis, died when only three months old in 1481.

2 R. Buchner, Maximilian I, Göttingen 1959, p. 22. Cited by Talbot 1998 p. 42, n. 9.

3 Katalog der Gemäldegalerie. Porträtgalerie zur Geschichte Österreichs von 1400 bis 1800, Vienna 1976, pp. 225–27, nos 193 and 194, reproduced figs 20 and 22.

4 Bonsanti 1983, fig. 10b.

5 See, for example, those exhibited Vienna, Albertina and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Maximilian I, 1959, nos 650–51, reproduced plate 95 in the catalogue.

6 The inscription reads: MAR.CAR.BURG./ DUCIS.F.ET HAER./ MAX.I.CAES CONJU.1.

7 Geschäft von Hof, 1500, fol. 107 (29 June), cited by Talbot 1998, p. 42, n. 12: ‘König Maximilian verlangt, die Regierung zu Innsbruck sole ihm ‘die gemäl von unserm auch unser vordern gemahel und ander angesicht’, welche der Maler in Schwaz in Händen habe, unverzüglich schicken’. Two further requests were made on the 3 and 8 July.

8 ‘..zwei conterfettafeln, daran Frau Maria von Burgun gemält ist’. Quoted in Katalog der Gemäldegalerie. Porträtgalerie zur Geschichte Österreichs von 1400 bis 1800, Vienna 1976, p. 226.

9 See, for example, K. Löcher, ‘Hans Maler’, in The Dictionary of Art, vol. XX, London 1996, pp. 190–91.

10 See E. Egg, ‘Zur Maximilianischen Kunst in Innsbruck’, in Feröffentlichungen des Tiroler Landesmuseums Ferdinandeum, 46, 1966, p. 31.

11 G. Otto, Bernhard Strigel, Munich and Berlin 1964, p. 101, no. 55, reproduced fig. 124.

12 Inv. 683. See N. Lieb and A. Stange, Hans Holbein der Ältere, Munich and Berlin 1960, p.86, no. 117, reproduced fig. 194.

13 Exhibited Bode Museum, Berlin and New York, Metropolitan Museum, The Renaissance portrait from Donatello to Bellini, 2011–12, no. 106.

14 Bonsanti 1983 p. 14 records the possibly apocryphal and unpublished view of the scholar Charles Sterling that the panel also manifests a number of French stylistic traits, but these are not expanded upon.

15 Despite extensive technical analysis of the panel undertaken in 2001 and again recently, the marouflage of the present panel unfortunately makes it impossible for it to be dated by dendrochronological means. At the time of writing no dating for the other painting on an oak panel, that in Graz, was available.

16 Talbot 1998, p. 42.

17 Roberts 2008, pp. 60–61.

18 Cited by Roberts 2008 p. 62, n. 31. The published poem was accompanied by 118 woodcuts designed by Hans Burgkmair, Hans Schaufelein, Leonhard Beck and others.