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A Man in a Black Cap with a Letter

after Hans Memling (Seligenstadt 1430/40 – Bruges 1494)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1480 - 1490

Materials

Oil on poplar panel

Measurements

370 x 280 mm

Place of origin

Italy

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Collection

Petworth House and Park, West Sussex (Accredited Museum)

On show at

Petworth House and Park, West Sussex, London and South East, National Trust

NT 486806

Caption

Memling produced a series of portrait of this type between 1480 and 1490. Many of them appear to have been painted for Italians working in Northern Europe, many of whom traded in cloth. The colours are unusually warm for Memling, and the fact that it is painted on poplar wood, seldom used in Flanders, suggests that this copy may be of Italian origin. It is not known when Memling’s original first arrived in Italy. The original version of this portrait was in the Corsini Gallery, Florence, from where it was sold to Hitler on the orders of Mussolini in 1941. It has now been restored to the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Summary

Oil painting on poplar panel, A Man in a Black Cap, after Hans Memling (Seligenstadt 1430/40 – Bruges 1494), 1480/90. A portrait of an unknown man after Hans Memling , probably painted in Italy (where poplar was predominantly used) some 20 years after the original painting by Memling who was German but spent much of his time in Bruges and had Italian clients. The man is facing right front, with short curly brown hair, and wearing a black tunic and cap with a white linen collar. The middle distance is wooded, against a blue sky, with a road at left and a lake on the right and in the right distance is a church. Once, amazingly, described as being a portrait of Antonello Messina by Massaccio but called school of Memling by 1920, this is an early Italian copy after the Netherlandish original which depicts an Italian gentleman who may have been a cloth trader in Bruges and would have taken his portrait back home with him. The background of this painting, however, differs from the original which has clouds and does not have deer drinking below the swans in the right background and the building in the right background is different. The curl at the side of his right eye is more pronounced in the Petworth picture and prior to its cleaning in 1952 there appeared to be no ledge on which the fingers rested. The original portrait of around 1475 by Memling was in the Corsini Gallery, Florence. It was sold to Hitler on the orders of Mussolini in 1941; restored in 1948; and recovered in Zurich in 1973 after a theft in 1971 and is now owned by the Uffizi, Florence. Hans Memling (c.1430/40-94) was born near Frankfurt-am-Main but was traditionally, and very probably, a pupil of Rogier van der Weyden. His art is purely Netherlandish and he seems to have spent his life in Bruges, where he became a citizen in 1465, and was one of the largest taxpayers by 1480. He painted calm and devotional pictures, full of the gentle piety which is one aspect of the later Middle Ages, and also some fine portraits. His earliest dated work is 1472 in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

Provenance

Probably acquired by the 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837) and the inventory taken after his death; thence by descent, until the death in 1952 of the 3rd Lord Leconfield, who had given Petworth to the National Trust in 1947, and whose nephew and heir, John Wyndham, 6th Lord Leconfield and 1st Lord Egremont (1920-72) arranged for the acceptance of the major portion of the collections at Petworth in lieu of death duties (the first ever such arrangement) in 1956 by HM Treasury

Credit line

Petworth House, The Egremont Collection (acquired in lieu of tax by HM Treasury in 1956 and subsequently transferred to the National Trust)

Makers and roles

after Hans Memling (Seligenstadt 1430/40 – Bruges 1494), original artist

Exhibition history

Face to Face: Flanders, Florence, and Renaissance Painting, The Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens, California, USA, 2013, no.25

References

Face to Face: Flanders, Florence, and Renaissance Painting, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California 28 September 2013 - 13 January 2014 , Plate 25, pp.77 Remastered Bosch to Bellotto An exhibition of Petworth's European old masters (Andrew Loukes), Petworth House, West Sussex (National Trust) 9 January - 6 March 2016, cat. 23

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