Portrait of a Cleric
Unknown artist, Flemish, Bruges, Belgium
Attributed to Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula
Portrait of a Cleric, ca. 1490
Oil on panel
22.2 x 14.6 x 5.7 cm (8 3/4 x 5 3/4 x 2 1/4 inches)
Museum purchase with funds from Mrs. Gustav Radeke, Manton B. Metcalf, Museum Works of Art Fund and Museum Appropriation Fund, by exchange, and Museum Special Reserve Fund 45.042
This naturalistic portrait of a man with his hands in prayer is painted with the luminous colors and fine detail typical of painters working in the Netherlands in the 15th century. The appearance of a shaved spot (tonsure) on the crown of the sitter’s head indicates that he was a member of a religious order. His gaze, cast to his right, suggests that the portrait formed part of a diptych (two panels hinged in the middle) whose opposing image most likely depicted the Virgin Mary. Representations of this type emphasized the sitter’s special intimacy with the Divine, joining the sitter and the object of his devotion in a contiguous space that shares the same light and textures of the natural world. The likeness also functions as a surrogate for the sitter, who by facing the Virgin perpetually re-enacts his devotion to her.