Barthel Bruyn the Elder (German, Haarlem? 1493 - 1555 Cologne)
Portrait of a Lady, ca. 1539
Inscribed on belt: n als if fr en and N and W
Oil on panel (oak)
13 1/4 x 11 1/4 in. (33.7 x 28.5 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1940
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With careful attention to details of costume and jewelery, Bruyn's faithful likenesses of the wealthy bourgeoisie of Cologne embody the solid virtues and material pride of his sitters.
Unlike his contemporaries Hans Holbein (1497/8 - 1543) and Lucas Cranach (1472 - 1553), Barthel Bruyn did not work under the aegis of any royal or princely court; his portraits are almost exclusively of the patrician, or upper bourgeois, citizens of Cologne. In part because he was not forced to adhere to traditional courtly standards of idealized beauty, his likenesses are more individualized, robust transcriptions of reality. They express the personality and temperament of the sitter and reflect more generally the "devout, stately mentality" of the wealthy middle class of Cologne.1 Yet, with few exceptions, and with only minor variations in pose and attributes, Bruyn's portraits conform rigidly to standard compositional formats.2
The Oberlin Portrait of a Woman is in many ways typical of Bruyn's female portraits: the figure is turned three-quarters to the left and gazes straight ahead. Light from the left defines the planes and contours of her face and casts a shadow upon the flat green background, heightening the illusion of space. The sitter's garments are rendered with detailed precision: the black costume bordered with white fur; the gold brocade bodice; the blouse trimmed with gold braid, embroidery, and pearls; and the elaborate headdress over a starched white coif. The jewelry worn by the sitter--multiple gold rings, heavy gold chain, and jeweled pendant --further indicates her prosperity and social standing.3 The letters on the gold embroidered belt spell out "n als if fr en," for "als in eren" (All in Honor), a motto not uncommon in embroidery of the period.4
As in nearly all of Bruyn's portraits, the sitter holds an attribute, in this case an apple. The apple can probably be read as a symbol of the Fall of Man, and of the sitter's humble acknowledgment of the human propensity for sin.
Although undated, the Oberlin portrait was probably painted in about 1539, based on a comparison with similar portraits of women in Braunschweig and Darmstadt, both dated 1539.5 It is also very close in conception to the Portrait of a Woman, possibly of the Weinsberg Family of about 1638/9 in the Fundación Coleccion Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.6 (Despite superficial similarities in costume and facial structure, the sitter is not the woman depicted in the Portrait of a Female Donor in Hannover, as scholars have previously suggested.7
M. E. Wieseman
Barthel (Bartholomaeus) Bruyn the Elder, the dominant painter in Cologne in the first half of the sixteenth century, was born in 1493 in the region of the Lower Rhine. He trained in the workshop of Jan Joest von Calcar (1455/60-1519) along with the Netherlandish painter Joos van Cleve (ca. 1485-1540/1), who had a decisive influence on his art. Bruyn arrived in Cologne in 1512 and remained in that city for the rest of his life, serving on various municipal councils between 1518 and 1553. He was married sometime between 1515 and 1520, and had two sons, both of whom became artists. Bruyn's death was recorded in the parish church of St. Alban in Cologne on 2 April 1555.
No signed paintings by the artist are known, but his oeuvre has been reconstructed around two documented altarpieces. Several dated works permit the establishment of a general chronology. Earlier paintings (to the mid-1520s) show the influence of Jan Joest and especially Joos van Cleve. Beginning in the late 1520s Bruyn's work reflects the Netherlandish "Romanism" of Jan van Scorel (1495-1562) and Maerten van Heemskerck. In addition to painting large altarpieces and private devotional works, Bruyn was a gifted and prolific portraitist.
Tümmers, Horst-Johs. Die Altarbilder des älteren Bartholomäus Bruyn. Cologne, 1964.
Westoff-Krummacher, Hildegard. Barthel Bruyn Der Altere als Bildnismaler. Munich, 1965.
Sale Hugo Garthe, Cologne (Lempertz), 17 September 1877, lot 53 (M.360)
Collection Constantin Raderschatt, Cologne8
Collection Franz Hax, Cologne (1904)
Collection M. Manoli, Berlin
With Paul Cassirer, Berlin
With Wildenstein and Co., New York
Collection Ernst Rosenfeld, New York (1928)
With M. Knoedler and Company, Inc., New York
Sale New York (Parke-Bernet), 19-20 January 1940, lot 216, ill.
With M. Knoedler and Company, Inc., New York (1940), from whom purchased
Dusseldorf, 1904. Kunsthistorische Ausstellung. Cat. no. 78.
New York, F. Kleinberger and Co., 1928. Loan Exhibition of German Primitives for the Benefit of the American Red Cross. 3 - 30 November. Cat. no. 50.
St. Louis, City Art Museum, 1947. Forty Masterpieces. 6 October - 10 November. Cat. no. 3.
Indianapolis, Ind., John Herron Art Museum, 1950. Holbein and his Contemporaries. 22 October - 24 December. Cat. no. 11.
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries:Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 28.
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, 1955. Barthel Bruyn 1493-1555, Gesamtverzeichnis seiner Bildnisse und Altarwerke. June - August. Cat. no. 115.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ackland Memorial Art Center, 1958. Paintings, Drawings, Prints and Sculptures from American College and University Collections. 20 September - 20 October. Cat. no. 93.
Firmenich-Richartz, Eduard. Bartholomaeus Bruyn und Seine Schule: ein kunsthistorische Studie. Leipzig, 1891, p. 101.
Scheibler, L. "Die Kunsthistorische Ausstellung zu Dusseldorf 1904." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 27 (1904), p. 524.
Art News (October 1928), p. 1, ill.
Kuhn, Charles L. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, cat. no. 30.
Illustrated List of Objects Purchased with The R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1940-1941. Oberlin, 1941, no. 13.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "The Bruyn Portrait." Art Quarterly 4 (1941), p. 248.
Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 1, no. 2 (1944), p. 34, no. 44.
Olsson, Martin. "Korset på Gustav Vasas Kista." In Arkaeologiska Forskningar Och Fynd (Stockholm, 1953), pp. 229ff.
Katalog der Gemälde alter Meister in der niedersächsischen Landesgalerie, Hannover. Hannover, 1954, pp. 44-45.
Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 11, no. 2 (Winter 1954), fig. 28.
"Small College with Big Paintings." Art News 52, no. 10 (February 1954), p. 28, ill.
May, Helmut. Barthel Bruyn 1493-1555, Gesamtverzeichnis seiner Bildnisse und Altarwerke.
Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, 1955, p. 38, cat. no. 115.
Weltkunst 25 (1955), p. 11.
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 8; no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 213.
Westoff-Krummacher, Hildegard. Barthel Bruyn Der Altere als Bildnismaler. Munich, 1965, pp. 68, 180, cat. no. 111.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 25-26, fig. 39.
Wackernagel, R. H. "Zwei neue Stifterbildnisse Barthel Bruyn d. Ä." Niederdeutsche Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte 7 (1968), p. 179 n. 38.
Epstein, Kathleen, ed. German Renaissance Patterns for Embroidery: A Facsimile Copy of Nicolas Bassée's "New Modelbuch" of 1568. Austin, 1994, p. 14, fig. 5.
The painting is in good condition. The single, radially-cut oak panel has been thinned and mounted onto a secondary wood support, following the vertical grain of the original panel, and a cradle (moveable type) attached to the reverse. There are minor restorations to the paint layer in the area of the sitter's neck, and along an 8 in. (20.3 cm) vertical crack to the right of the sitter. There is some local inpainting in the background. The panel was originally housed in an engaged frame; the left, right, and top edges are intact, showing accumulated ground (barb) and exposed wood, but the panel has at some point been trimmed along the bottom edge. As comparable portraits by Bruyn frequently include a table or ledge across the base of the composition in the foreground, it is likely that the Oberlin portrait may originally have featured a similar element.
1. Helmut May, Barthel Bruyn 1493-1555, Gesamtverzeichnis seiner Bildnisse und Altarwerke (exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, 1955), p. 6, no. 115; see also Hildegard Westoff-Krummacher, Barthel Bruyn Der Altere als Bildnismaler(Munich, 1965), pp. 26-28, no. 111.
2. Hildegard Westoff-Krummacher (Barthel Bruyn Der Altere als Bildnismaler[Munich, 1965], passim) has drawn a parallel between the persistence of these formal portrait conventions and the strong social structure of the bourgeoisie in Cologne during the period.
3. An identical jeweled pendant is featured in Bruyn's Portrait of a Woman, possibly of the Weinsberg Family, ca. 1538/9, oil on panel, 34.9 x 25.5 cm, Madrid, Fundación Coleccion, Thyssen-Bornemisza, inv. 1930.12.
4. The same motto is embroidered on garments worn by various members of the House of Saxony in contemporary portraits by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Younger. Compare the elder Cranach's Portrait of Elector Johann Friedrich the Magnimonious, ca. 1535, Enschede, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, inv. 66; and Portrait of Sibylle von Cleve, Electress of Saxony, ca. 1531, sale New York (Christie's), 31 January 1997, lot 107; or the younger Cranach's Portrait of Anne of Denmark, 1549, sale New York (Christie's), 31 January 1997, lot 108. All three are reproduced in Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach(Ithaca, 1978), cat. nos. 336, 337 and 428, respectively. It is remotely possible, although not provable, that Bruyn's portrait may also represent someone with ties to the Saxon house.
5. Portrait of a Young Woman, dated 1539, oil on panel, 38 x 26.5 cm, Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, inv. 15; Portrait of a Woman Aged 26, dated 1539, oil on panel, 50 x 38.5 cm, Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum, inv. GK 35. Compare also the Portrait of a Woman, dated 1540, oil on panel, 41.6 x 28.9 cm, collection Earl of Crawford and Balcarres; all reproduced in Hildegard Westoff-Krummacher, Barthel Bruyn Der Altere als Bildnismaler (Munich, 1965), cat. nos. 39, 40 and 44, respectively.
6. Portrait of a Woman, possibly of the Weinsberg Family, ca. 1538/9, oil on panel, 34.9 x 25.5 cm, Madrid, Fundación Coleccion Thyssen-Bornemisza, inv. 1930.12; Hildegard Westoff-Krummacher, Barthel Bruyn Der Altere als Bildnismaler(Munich, 1965), cat. no. 81; see also Isolde Lübbeke, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Early German Painting 1350-1550 (London, 1991), pp. 166-71.
7. Oil on panel, 39 x 22.5 cm, fragment of a wing of an altarpiece, datable to ca. 1540, Hannover, Niedersächsische Landesgalerie; Hildegard Westoff-Krummacher, Barthel Bruyn Der Altere als Bildnismaler (Munich, 1965), cat. no. 95. The likeness was suggested by Helmut May in Barthel Bruyn 1493-1555, Gesamtverzeichnis seiner Bildnisse und Altarwerke (exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, 1955), pp. 31 and 38, and reiterated by Wolfgang Stechow, Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum (Oberlin, 1967), p. 26.
8. But not in the sale of this collection, 9 July 1885.