Portrait Of A Man – Dirk Bouts

The sitter is a thin-faced man of early middle age with strong and earnest features. He is posed in the manner so frequent in Flanders in the fifteenth century, his fingers joined as if in prayer. Only the upper part of the hands is visible, the frame cutting off the rest. As is apt to be the case in these por-traits, the composition appears somewhat crowded, as if the panel were small for all that the thrifty painter made it contain. The person reminds one of a certain figure in the Legend of Otho series, now in the Brussels Museum, only two panels of which, the last of his commissions executed for the town hall of Louvain, were completed at the time of the artist’s death. This resemblance would indicate, as Max J. Friedlander has pointed out, that our picture dates from the later part of the painter’s life. Bouts was appointed in I464 “portraitist” of Louvain, his retainer, as the records show, being a piece of cloth out of which to make a dress of ceremony and ninety “plecken” to buy a lining for it. As painter to the city he was required to accompany the annual pro-cession of the Holy Sacrament and the Kermesse, receiving with the other functionaries at the end of the procession a pot of Rhine wine.

Dirk or Tierry Bouts, as he is sometimes called, is counted among the founders of Flemish painting and one of the greatest of fifteenth-century artists. He may have been born in Holland; certainly he studied there, though the paintings of Jan Van Eyck were the real foundations of his art. But in distinction to his Flemish contemporaries, one fancies that there is something of Dutch seriousness and reserve in his people, and that the human sympathy revealed in his pictures prefigures in that sense the work of Rembrandt.