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Object: Portrait of a young man

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Title Portrait of a young man
Production Mor, Anthonis (attributed), 16th century
Medium summary oil on wood panel
Materials oil paint
Classification oil paintings, portraits
Dimensions Image: 431mm (Height) x 343mm (Width)
Frame: 560mm (Height) x 465mm (Width) x 55mm (Depth)
Credit line Gift of Miss Noeline Baker, 1955
Registration number 1955-0001-1

Although in the past this portrait has been attributed to Hans Eworth (c. 1520-73), art historian and curator Peter Tomory suggested in 1989 that in fact it was by Anthonis Mor.

Eworth was a Felmish painter who spent much of his working life in England. There are at least 35 works believed to be by him, most of which bear the monogram HE. Mor was a Dutch painter who travelled to a number of places in Euroope, including Italy, Portugal and England, where he was known as Sir Anthony More, and Spain, where he was known as Antonio Moro.

The pose of the sitter, who is placed very close to the picture plane in this portrait, his right arm resting on a ledge, is similar to Titian's famous portrait in the National Gallery, London, which at the time was believed to be of the poet Ariosto. Like many artists of his time, Mor studied works by Titian in Madrid. Today, only the face, hand and ruff in this painting emerge out of a velvety darkness. The dark tones have turned almost black over time, making it difficult to determine details with the naked eye. The young man wears a heavy black coat with broad, folded-back collar over a black vest fastened with ball-shaped buttons. A matching dark cap covers his short wavy hair. Only the modest white ruff alleviates the darkness, helping to throw light onto the face, which is beautifully modelled.

Every hair on the cheeks and the eyebrows is finely painted but, more remarkably, every strand of the young man's nasal hair, including those under the nostril that the razor has missed when the moustache was trimmed, is clearly delineated. Such attention to detail suggests that the artist knew his subject intimately. Often when a figure is painted with such a direct gaze it suggests a self-portrait, as the artist is working closely from a reflection in a mirror, but in this instance the figure bears no resemblance to a signed self-portrait of Anthonis Mor in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. When he was working in Spain, Mor made very sensitive portraits of some of the lesser figures of the Spanish court, including one of the court dwarfs, now in the Louvre in Paris. The features of this young man, particularly the broad nose and golden brown skin tones, suggest that he might have been one of the exotic attendants at Philip II's court.

See: Mary Kisler, 'Artist Unknown sixteenth century Flanders or Netherlands', in William McAloon (ed.), Art at Te Papa (Wellington, 2009), p. 31.

See also: Peter Tomory and Robert Gaston, European Paintings before 1800 in Australian and New Zealand Public Collections (Sydney, 1989).

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