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Bartel Bruyn le jeun, Portrait d'homme

A Liège portrait with a German flair...



Bartel Bruyn the younger (attributed to)

Cologne, ca. 1530 - ca. 1607-1610

Portrait of a man

Second third of the 16th century

Oil on panel, 48.5 x 33.5 cm

Inv. BA.WAL.05a.1954.300

 

At a public auction in 1945, the Museum of Walloon Art acquired this portrait of a man presented as being that of the painter Lambert Lombard at the end of his life. A Latin inscription on the frame designates the work as an 'obiit' portrait, a memorial panel usually bearing the name and coat of arms of the deceased1 . It was customary to place the portrait in a prominent position at funerals.

Following an in-depth stylistic analysis by the art historian Didier Martens, the painting has been linked to the Colonial School of the second half of the 16th century, attributed to the painter Barthel Bruyn the Younger (ca. 1530 - ca. 1607-1610). This name distinguishes him from his father, Barthel Bruyn the Elder, with whom he trained.

This oil painting is executed on an oak panel with a scalloped upper section. The frame is original: the four uprights are joined together with mortise and tenon joints and are held together by two wooden pegs at each corner.

The work has been restored previously, but this earlier work has aged badly. A thick oxidised varnish covered the entire painting and considerably dulled the composition. Numerous overpaintings (overflowing retouching) masked the wear and tear and gaps in the paint layer. These overpaintings, which were done in oil paint, have darkened over time and disturb the good visibility of the work. The black coat of the figure, for example, was entirely covered with a homogeneous overpaint of the same colour.

The support is in a very good state of preservation. Only a few small dents in the paint layer indicate that the panel has been slightly stressed due to excessive climatic variations.

After fixing the paint layer to prevent further loss of material, the work was varnished. The panel had previously been removed from its frame. Small local retouching and overpainting were also removed.

The paint layer is thin, applied to an unbleached preparation covered with a pinkish-beige coloured primer. The purpose of this layer is to warm up the tones by transparency. The cleaning of the work revealed a rather patchy and worn painting, which nevertheless retains a very good quality of execution that was enhanced by the retouching work.

In parallel with the restoration of the painting, several scientific examinations were carried out on the painting. An X-ray of the frame revealed an inscription hidden beneath the current Latin inscription. Also, thanks to binocular observation, old letters were uncovered. The X-ray reading revealed a partial text in German. The man depicted is said to be a certain Johann who died in February 1576. Surprisingly enough, the Latin prayer that can be seen is an almost exact translation of the underlying German inscription: ALL MEIN HOFFEN IN GOTT IOHANN VON... OBIIT ANNO DOMINI 1576DIE ... FEBRUARII. Unfortunately, the reading of the name is incomplete and we lack the information to know the full identity of the patron. It would be tempting to eliminate the late inscription in favour of the original lettering in order to unravel this mystery. We would then be removing forever a part of the history of this work that appeared in the collections of Liège thanks to an identity theft.

 

Audrey Jeghers
Restorer at the Museums of the City of Liege

1. D. Martens, Le portrait obiit de Lambert Lombard représente-t-il réellement le peintre liégeois ?, Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, 52, 1991,
pp.77-90.
2. Rounded shape of the panel made of a curve and counter-curves.