CIRCLE OF THE MASTER OF THE 1540s (Antwerp, active 1540-1551)
Portrait of a Man with his Right Hand Holding a Red Carnation and in his Left a Glove
oil on panel
15 x 11 ½ inches (38 x 29 cm.)
Private Collection, France
Private Collection, Washington, D.C. acquired prior to 1992 until the present time
Antwerp at this time was the center for art in Northern Europe. It was also one of the most populated cities in Europe and the leading trade and banking center of the Netherlands. Portraits were regarded as an essential part of the interior decoration of the houses of the well-to-do which naturally led to a strong demand and market. As the painting of portraits was regarded as more of a craftsman-like imitation of nature than invention the names of these artists tended not to be recorded.
The Master of the 1540s is the name given by Max J. Friedländer to an anonymous painter of a group of approximately thirty known portraits. Regarded as a follower of Joos van Cleve (1485-1540), his period of activity from 1540-1551 began immediately after Van Cleve’s death, documented by the works in the group that are dated. With two exceptions, the portraits of Gillebert van Schoonbeke and his wife Elisabeth Heyndrickx on loan to the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, the Master’s sitters are unidentified. They are also devoid of coats-of-arms or other distinguishing emblems whose absences mark them as members of the upper middle class as opposed to the aristocracy. 
As evident in this panel, typical characteristics for the Master of the 1540s are portraits done in half-length formats, in which the sitter’s head is viewed frontally or just slightly turned to the side, set close to the top of the panel. Although these portrayals are individualized the group shares a certain uniformity in the depiction of facial features that are executed with a qualitative assurance and objectivity. Flesh tones are brightly lit causing the face and hands to spring forth from dark attire often planar in effect and a background of indeterminate brightness. In this work and a number of others, the head casts a shadow against the background which serves to enhance the volume and depth of the composition. Often the sitters hold a glove in nicely formed hands with long fingers and oval nails. The overall impression of these portraits is one of vivid clarity encapsulated in a veneer of high gloss. 
Beginning in the fifteenth century onwards portraits regularly feature sitters displaying raised carnations. A carnation is regarded as a symbol of divine love, resurrection and the hope of eternal life. The clutched glove in his left hand symbolizes fidelity and attests to piety and the belief in eternal salvation.
 Zirka Zaremba Filipczak, Picturing Art in Antwerp 1550 – 1700, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1987, p. 3.
 Hans Vlieghe, Flemish Art and Architecture 1585 – 1700, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1998, p. 8.
 Max J. Friendländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, Antonis Mor and his Contemporaries, volume XIII, Praeger Publishers, Inc., New York, 1975, pp. 46 – 47.
 Ibid, pp. 46-48.
 Saskia Kuus, “Paulus Moreelse” in Pride and Joy, Children’s Portraits in the Netherlands 1500 – 1700, exhibition catalog, Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem, 2000, p. 136.