Seligenstadt, Germany, 1433 – Bruges 1494
Portrait of a Man
About 1480 or later
Oil on wood
33.4 x 22.8 cm
Purchase, Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest and William Gilman Cheney Bequest, inv. 1956.1129
Born in Germany, Memling settled in Bruges in 1465 and became a leader of that city’s school of painting. His work is characterized by a lyrical tranquillity. This painting suggests the artist’s talent for employing the atmospheric perspective and realistic detail so typical of Netherlandish painting. The market for Memling’s work in Italy influenced painters there in their depictions of landscape backgrounds. The style of the young man’s haircut, then fashionable in Southern Europe, and his distinctive black cap suggest he was a member of the Italian merchant community in Bruges. The unusual perspective of the landscape, resulting in a horizon that rises high behind the head, rather than at the neck, as is standard for the artist, the atypical proportion of the head and limited volume, and the oddly small and too-elevated placement of the sitter’s eyes have led recent experts to suggest that the painting was perhaps by a Bruges imitator or follower of the artist of the period.