Portrait of a Bearded Man Wearing a Ruff
Red, black and brown chalk
Inv. No. 1064
24.3 × 18 cm
In the latter part of the sixteenth century, elegant portrait drawings – which often concentrated on the head and facial features while only alluding to the clothing and the remainder of the sitter’s body – were popular among the aristocracy and upper bourgeoisie in France and very widespread. This drawing in different-coloured chalks of a stern-looking gentleman with a well-tended moustache and goatee is one such portrait. The artist has managed to capture the individual features and, with a combination of rubbed patches and structure-providing lines, to suggest the surface of the skin and thick, bushy hair. At the same time, the portrait preserves a certain discreet, rather formulaic distance. The drawing technique and compositional structure achieve the effect of a painting, and we may assume that this work was not executed as a preparatory study but as a portrait in its own right, and was preserved accordingly.
This early example of the rich tradition of French portraiture dates from the time of the religious conflicts in France, a period of great upheaval during which the last Valois kings were finally succeeded by Henri IV of the House of Bourbon. It is thought to be one of a sizeable group of works in the possession of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, executed – presumably by François Quesnel – in a similar manner. Little more is known about Quesnel than that he came from a family of French artists, that he produced work for the French court in the 1570s and that, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, he drew a map of the city of Paris. Under these circumstances the attribution necessarily remains uncertain. The somewhat older painter Antoine Caron (1521–1599) has also been suggested as the possible originator of these drawings.