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This panel has been the subject of numerous studies and differing attributions by leading art historians including Max Friedländer and Friedrich Winkler. In 1969 Christian Salm attributed it to Ambrosio Holbein, son of Hans Holbein, and related it to a drawing by the artist now in Basel. Other art historians made a variety of attributions to known or anonymous artists. In her 1991 study of the German paintings in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Isolde Lübbeke compared the sitter’s features to those seen in other portraits by Ambrosio Holbein and concluded that he was not the artist of this work. Now catalogued as the work of an anonymous German artist, the sitter’s body is created through pronounced contrasts of light and their expressive effects with particular use of the darkest and lightest areas.
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Portrait of a young Man was acquired from the Julius Böhler gallery in Berlin in 1929. The panel remained unpublished until it was presented at the Munich exhibition of 1930 and its first reference in the literature is in the catalogue of that exhibition. The brief commentary in that publication, which tentatively attributed the panel to Ambrosius Holbein, indicated the problematic nature of the attribution of this work. The Munich catalogue also recorded Friedländer’s opinion that the portrait was by an anonymous master active in southern Germany, with a date of around 1530. However, Winkler’s thesis, which gave the panel to Holbein’s elder son Ambrosius, prevailed at the time. In the catalogues of the Collection published between 1937 and 1964 the panel was given to an anonymous Swabian artist of the Augsburg school. In 1969, Christian Salm published it again as by Ambrosius Holbein and compared this bust with a drawing by that artist in Basel which also depicts a young man. Ludwig von Baldass attributed the painting to Leonhard Beck, while Hugelshofer associated it with the Augsburg school.
The panel was studied by Lübbeke within the context of the Collection’s German paintings and she proposed the current attribution of an anonymous artist possibly active in Augsburg around 1525–30. Lübbeke analysed the most characteristic features of the artist’s style, compared them to the style of Ambrosius Holbein and concluded that the two artists were not the same. Among the features that she pointed to in the present panel and which are not to be found in Holbein’s work are the pronounced contrasts between light and dark tones with which the figure is constructed, with the light areas emphasised by highlights. There are also differences in the draughtsmanship, which is more vigorous in works associated with Ambrosius Holbein. In addition, there are no known references to that painter after 1519.
The sitter’s face is strongly lit while the hat and clothing remain in darkness, almost lost in the background. The hair is ochre in colour, a tone also used for the collar and the eyes.