"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, March 1, 2020

A Merchant

This c. 1530 portrait of A Merchant by Jan Gossaert hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Gossaert's portrait shows a merchant seated in a cramped yet cozy space, surrounded by the tools of his trade. Scattered over the table are such useful items as a talc shaker used to dry ink, an ink pot, a pair of scales for testing the weight (and hence the quality) of coins, and a metal receptacle for sealing wax, quill pens, and paper. Attached to the wall are balls of twine and batches of papers labeled “miscellaneous letters” and “miscellaneous drafts.” The monogram on the sitter's hat pin and index finger ring have led to his tentative identification as Jan Jacobsz Snoeck.
The artist's Netherlandish love of detail and texture combine with his admiration for the massiveness of Italian High Renaissance art to achieve here what might be termed a monumentality of the particular. At the same time, the sitter's furtive glance and prim mouth are enough to inform us of the insecurity and apprehension that haunted bankers in the 1530s, when the prevailing moral attitude was summed up by the Dutch humanist Erasmus, who asked, “When did avarice reign more largely and less punished?” - NGA
 Alrehande Missiven 
(miscellaneous letters)

Alrehande Minuten
(miscellaneous drafts)


This stop 541 on the director's tour; You can hear the NGA's discussion of this work: here.

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