WEYDEN, Rogier van der
(b. 1400, Tournai, d. 1464, Bruxelles)

Young Man

Silverpoint on prepared paper, 98 x 81 mm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The drawing of a Young Man appears at first to be a portrait, but is not connected with any individual portrait painting. The half length depiction of the subject - who may originally have been shown full length, since the drawing has been trimmed at the bottom - and more particularly the way he is holding his hat, the "chaperon," in front of his chest - indicate that he belongs in the context of some scene. Oddly, he has buried his hands in the chaperon as if in a muff. As he would not have been praying with his hands in this position, his glance cannot be bent on saintly figures. He is more likely to fit into the context of some secular event, in which he is a subordinate figure and must take off his hat; this would probably have been a scene similar to that of the introductory miniature in the Hainault Chronicle.

The clothes he wears show that the Young Man is in fact earlier than the miniature: for instance, his chaperon has not yet acquired the large bulge of the Duke's in the miniature, his baggy sleeves have no shoulder padding, and his belt is obviously worn low, features corresponding to the fashions of the 1430s. In the face, with its emphasis on the eyes, its apparently long nose, and its clearly depicted bone structure, the drawing shows characteristic elements of Rogier's style in earlier heads such as that of St. Luke, as well as in his later portraits (Portrait of Jean de Gros, Chicago). The young man's grave but slightly skeptical expression imparts something lifelike to the portrait, and one is initially inclined to think that it was indeed drawn from life. On the other hand, more attention seems to have been paid to the man's clothing than to his face, and it is not very likely that he would have been sitting for his portrait in an attitude suggesting an established pictorial context. Yet the drawing appears on the whole spontaneous; the forms and folds of the man's garments are precisely depicted, with some areas more strongly outlined, and the hatching, sometimes in several layers, is relatively rapid and not overmeticulous. The freer line and hatching do show some similarities with much of the underdrawing in Rogier's work, but these are conventions of draftsmanship which may indeed indicate connections between the artists responsible, but do not allow an attribution to the same hand.

The Young Man will not really stand comparison with the much more finely worked Portrait of a Young Woman (British Museum, London), where light and shade are rendered in the manner of a painting. Even the details that the artist chose to depict show that the two drawings were made for different purposes. Moreover, the line is so different in the two portraits that although they were probably done at around the same time, it is difficult to see them as the work of a single artist, though these two drawings alone among Early Netherlandish drawings qualify for consideration as works by Rogier's own hand.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.