Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
This work was formerly attributed to the so-called Master WB, an artist studied by Buchner. It was not until 1985 that Fedja Anzelewsky associated it with an engraving bearing the initials WB and an entwined serpent, identifying the artist as Wolfgang Beurer. The present panel has been fundamental in establishing the artist’s chronology due to the presence of the date on the lower edge of the frame. The sitter, who remains unidentified, is located behind a ledge that, together with the window, helps to create a sense of depth in the composition. He wears a ring with a coat-of-arms and the letter “R” and holds an elaborate pendant. This element, together with the scene that is taking place in the landscape, has led to the suggestion that this is a nuptial portrait. A fantastical figure that has been interpreted as a wild man is depicted on the back of the panel.
The present panel, which has the date on the frame of 24 April 1487, was formerly attributed to the Master WB. Known only from his initials, this anonymous artist was studied by Buchner who attributed various paintings, prints and designs to him. The next step towards identification was taken in 1985 by Fedja Anzelewsky who associated the initials WB with Wolfgang Beurer on the basis of a drawing in Gdansk which had belonged to Dürer. On the reverse of the drawing Dürer had written the full name of Wolfgang Beurer and the date.
The artist located his sitter in an interior adorned with a rich brocade cloth that acts as a backdrop on the left, while on the right we see a window whose frame is arranged on a pronounced diagonal. The ledge at the front, just in front of the sitter and on which he rests his hands, serves to increase the sense of pictorial depth. The sitter, who remains unidentified, wears a ring with a coat-of-arms and the letter “R”. The figure is constructed using a limited colour range in which the artist succeeds in combining the dark tones of the coat and turban with the ochres used for the fur trim of the clothes and for the beard and hair. The fact that the sitter holds a fine pendant on a chain, together with the scene taking place outside the window, has led to the suggestion that this is a betrothal portrait, and in fact the frame of the present work has two grooves that indicate that it may have been joined to another panel, which would have depicted a female sitter.
The sitter’s face is defined with pronounced, precise lines in a style that has been related to the heads in two engraved portraits attributed to Beurer. The parallels between the two prints and the present painting are evident in the expressive nature of the heads, the way of drawing the large eyes that look directly at the viewer, and the setting. From the symbols in the centre of the of the frame it seems likely that this anonymous sitter made a trip to the Holy Land, as on the left the frame has the emblem of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and on the right the Cypriot Order of the Sword. The reverse of the painting has a depiction of a figure whose body, hair and beard has led to its identification as a wild man.