Portrait of a Young Man by Petrus Christus

Portrait of a Young Man by Petrus Christus (c.1460)

I suppose I lay myself open to criticism by the way I jump from one genre of painting to another or from one period to another but all I am trying to achieve is to offer you up as many art genres as possible and by so doing open up the world of art to you.   There are many web blogs which concentrate on one particular art genre and maybe when you have decided what particular type of painting you like you can then find a website or blog which solely concentrates on that genre.  However for me, my love of art is not centred on one particular genre.  I love being able to dip in and out of painting types and by doing so I am able to discover real gems.  Yesterday, I featured a twentieth-century American artist and his city landscape today I am going back in time to the fifteenth century and looking at a portrait by a Netherlandish painter.  My featured artist today is Petrus Christus and My Daily Art Display is his oil on oak painting entitled Portrait of a Young Man which he completed around 1460 and which now can be seen in the National Gallery of London.

Petrus Christus was born around 1410 in what is now known as Baarle-Hertog and lies on the Belgium side of the Belgium-Netherland’s border.  Little is known of his early life until 1444 when he was noted as being an active painter in the city of Bruges.  It is thought that earlier he could have been a student of Jan van Eyck and on van Eyck’s death in 1441, Christus took over his workshop and completed some of his master’s work, but this is purely speculation and has yet to be irrefutably proven.  One argument against this turn of events is that it is known that Christus did not receive his Bruges citizenship until 1444, which is three years after van Eyck’s death.  Had he been a pupil of, and working for, van Eyck at the time of his death in 1441, he would automatically have received his Bruges ‘citizenship then.  So the question of whether Christus was a pupil of, or a successor to, remains unanswered.  However, having said all that, the one thing which is certain is that as an artist he was influenced by the work of van Eyck and made many copies of his works and became van Eyck’s successor.

And so, to today’s painting.  We see in front of us a young man holding an open prayer book looking towards the right of the picture, which lends us to believe that this is probably the left hand part of a devotional diptych and that the missing right-hand part of the diptych may have been a picture of the Virgin Mary. 

The Veronica

Over the man’s left shoulder, we can see on the wall an illuminated parchment showing an image of a revered icon known as the veronica, and a prayer.  The words of the prayer Salve sancta facies, “Hail, Holy Face”, which was a prayer to the face of Christ imprinted miraculously on Veronica’s veil.  .   The veronica according to legend bears the likeness of the face of Jesus Christ and comes from the Latin word “vera” meaning ‘truth’ and “icon” meaning ‘image’ and therefore the Veil of Veronica, simply known as The Veronica was regarded in the Middle Ages as the true image of Jesus’ face.  These illuminated manuscripts were very popular at this time as indulgences could be gained by reciting the prayer whilst looking at the face of Christ.

Look how Christus has painstakingly painted the minute details of this illuminated parchment.  It is amazing.  See how he has illustrated the curling up of the bottom right hand corner of the parchment as it comes away from its wooden backing.  The parchment has been fixed to the wood with metal pins which have been pressed through a narrow red ribbon which acts as a colourful border to the sacred parchment. 

To the left of the picture we see a stone arch way which has been decorated with carved stone statuettes.  On the outer side we have two statuettes, one of a prophet and the other a sibyl or prophetess, who foretold of the coming of Christ.  On the inner side of the arch we have the stone sculpture of John the Baptist who also foretold the coming of Christ.  Below his carved figure there is an empty plinth and one wonders what statuette had been intended for that space.


The artists has skilfully illustrated the folds in the young man’s long red cloak with its fur trim and I particularly like the elaborate design of the money pouch with the metal purse bar which can be seen under the right arm of the figure.

This is a truly remarkable painting.