[MR] Wikipedia: Mournauer Portrait

Garth Groff via Atlantia atlantia at seahorse.atlantia.sca.org
Sun Jun 5 03:53:28 PDT 2016

Noble Friends,

Today one of Wikipedia's featured articles concerns the portrait of 
Alexander Mornauer in the National Gallery in London. It seems this 
painting was altered in the 1700s and passed off as a Hans Holbein 
portrait of Martin Luther. While this mis-identification, or outright 
fraud, is out of our period, it is still fascinating. The painting is 
actually by someone other than Holbein, and does date to the late 1400s. 
It seems amazing how it could be passed off as Luther when the letter 
clearly gives the subject's name, but its various owners probably saw 
only what they wanted to see: 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_of_the_Mornauer_Portrait .

There is a lot we can learn from this portrait. First the letter in the 
man's hand. No stamps, of course, but consider how the paper or 
parchment is folded and addressed. No doubt it was sealed on the 
reverse. The signet ring is an absolute delight, with the image of the 
moor being a cant on the owner's name. Obviously the clothing would be 
of interest to anyone doing a mid-to-late 15th century German persona. 
It is trimmed in fur, the lacing loops at the throat are cast as a 
single ornate piece, and those elaborate round objects (buttons) are 
eye-catching. And how about that hat in the restored version? I wouldn't 
be caught dead in it, but that hat is worthy of study and duplication.

Also of interest are the other three portraits shown at the end of the 
article, thought to be by the same artist. All the hats are different, 
and give us a mini-gallery of German head wear of that time. These 
portraits are worthy of blowing up for further study (click on the 
portraits to see larger versions, then click again for even larger sizes).

"Pius Joachim" offers much of interest. Particularly note the bowless 
spectacles shown in the upper right corner. There is also a packet of 
letters, one still sealed. Not surprisingly for a pious man, the subject 
is telling his rosary. The red beads are probably stone, possibly 
carnelian which is found in Germany. Joachim has his left eyebrow raised 
a bit making his visage much more lifelike, but his eyes don't seem to 
match the plane of his face upon close study, giving him an odd, 
disjointed appearance. It was not unusual for 15th century artists to 
make their subjects a bit more noble or interesting looking by moving 
features around a bit or reshaping a jaw for emphasis. Rogier van der 
Weyden was notorious for this, and apparently appreciated for it since 
he remained court painter to Duke of Burgundy Philip the Good for many 
years. His 1460 "Portrait of a Lady" shows this in the unnatural 
positioning of the subject's ear and a backward extension of her skull, 
both of which enhance her attractiveness until you look closely and see 
that everything looks unnatural: 

The middle figure also has much to tell us. Fuzzy hat, with a cloth 
band. His gown is trimmed in fur. The sleeves at the wrist appear to 
have beaded detail, and his right wrist shows the sleeve is laced on the 
underside and a part of his shirt shows behind the lacing. There are 
metal lacing loops at his collar that are unused. He is also telling his 
beads, which again appear to be carnelian. There is a marked similarity 
of the face to Pius Joachim, but this might just be the style of the 

The third figure has less detail. Could this be a minor clerk of some 
sort, or perhaps a lawyer? Note the bands at his collar, similar to 
those traditionally worn by English barristers.

Yours Aye,

Lord Mungo Napier, That Crazy Scot

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