Portrait of a Man Wearing a Fur-Lined Coat and Broad-Rimmed Hat
Black and red chalk heightened with white opaque paint, on the face over light brown watercolour
Inv. No. 16336
27.7 × 21.5 cm
This portrait of an unknown man captivates the viewer with its immediacy and liveliness. A young subject with a roundish face and a nose that looks as if it has been broken is looking straight out at us; he wears a »Schaube«, the heavy fur-lined coat typical of the period, and a cap slit at the edge. His gaze, while essentially alert, also has something absent-minded and dreamy about it, creating an element of distance that contrasts with the picture’s immediacy. The portrait owes its liveliness in part to certain skilfully introduced asymmetrical touches – for example the eyes of unequal size, the slight turn of the head, the lowered left shoulder – but also to the high quality of the draughtsmanship. The differently coloured chalks over a delicate ground in the area of the face and the white heightening in opaque paint are merged so perfectly as to produce the effect of a surface that breathes and moves from within. This technique, which is akin to painting, does not use outlines to define the boundaries but depends wholly on the interplay of the colours.
In the seventeenth century this impressive work was believed to be a portrait of the painter Matthias Grünewald by Albrecht Dürer. At that time, the original monogram, WH, placed between the sitter’s left shoulder and the edge of the sheet by the Austrian painter, draughtsman and printmaker Wolf Huber – had already been removed and replaced by the forged initials of Dürer inserted beneath the authentic date of 1522. Scholars have disproved the traditional belief that this portrait shows us Grünewald’s features, but the true identity of the drawing’s subject will probably never be determined. Executed with extreme care and sophistication, this likeness must have been produced as a work of art in its own right.
The portrait was bought for the Städel Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings in 1978 at the auction of the Rudolf von Hirsch Collection. With the help of Städel Museum director Georg Swarzenski (1876–1957), the Offenbach industrialist Rudolf von Hirsch (1883–1977) had assembled a large and valuable collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures in the years prior to 1933. The collection had been promised to the Städel until von Hirsch was driven into exile by the National Socialists.