About this artwork

This half-length portrait shows a man at a desk or table before a detailed mountainous landscape, visible through rich marble arcading. Originally, the soberly dressed young man was holding only the rosebud, a traditional symbol of love that could also refer to the transience of beauty and life. X-rays have revealed that the other prominent objects, including the halo that transformed the man into a saint, were all later additions. The sitter must have been a wealthy man to commission a portrait of this quality from the leading Antwerp painter at the time.

Quentin Massys

Quentin Massys

Massys was highly regarded in Antwerp, as a painter of religious subjects and portraits. He had moved there from Louvain at the end of the fifteenth century when Antwerp succeeded Bruges as an important artistic centre. Massys’s meticulous style and attention to detail developed from the artistic legacy of Van Eyck and Memling. He was, however, also influenced by artistic developments in Italy. His satirical and grotesque paintings reflect an awareness of similar subjects in Leonardo’s drawings and may be connected with Erasmus’s ‘Praise of Folly’. Massys’s portrait of Erasmus, of 1517, was given to Sir Thomas More.