(b. ca. 1440, Seligenstadt, d. 1494, Bruges)
Portrait of Jacob Obrecht1496
Oil on oak panel, 50,8 x 36,1 cm
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
This portrait represents the renowned composer Jacob Obrecht. The artist and the subject was identified on the basis of a number of correspondences, including the year, the man's age, the inscription with his name, the fact that he is attired as a priest, and the very high quality of the painting, which suggests an artist of a stature to match the composer's own. Jacob Obrecht, or Hobrecht as he is generally called in the sources, earned international fame during his lifetime. This is the first portrait of him to come to light. Obrecht was the son of the Ghent city trumpeter Willem Hobrecht. If he was 38 in 1496 (as written on the frame), he must have been born in 1458. The composer Obrecht was appointed choirmaster at Cambrai Cathedral in 1484. Following his dismissal for mismanagement, he was given the corresponding post (succentor) at St Donatian's in Bruges. He was granted six months leave in 1487 to go and work at the court of Ferrara, at the request of Duke Ercole I d'Este. He was subsequently connected with Our Lady's in Antwerp between 1492 and 1496, before being reappointed in Bruges on 31 December 1498. He travelled to the court of Ferrara for a second time in 1504, where he died of plague in 1505.
Jacob Obrecht has longish chestnut-brown hair, fairly robust features, and wears a transparent surplice over a brownish toga. The dark green collar with black lining is folded under the surplice on one side, revealing the black collar of the laced-up waistcoat beneath. He has a grey fur almuce about his left wrist, the standard attribute of the canons of a chapter church. He is shown in three-quarter view against a light blue-green background. His name is written in gold, calligraphic letters on either side of his head: Ja[cob] Hobrecht. The reverse features a standing female figure in grisaille, wearing a long dress, and reading from an open book which she holds at waist height. The sitter will originally have been looking towards the figure of a saint or a religious scene. Hinge-marks on the right-hand side of the frame confirm this beyond doubt. It is not certain, however, whether this was the painter's original intention.
The date 1496 (two years after Memling's death) appearing on the frame must refer to the later installation or completion by another artist of a diptych or triptych left unfinished. The later addition of the grisaille might also be an indication that the painting was finished after Memling's death.