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Page 2. The Scots Portrait

Oil on oak panel 43.4 cm x 33.6cm.


Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor, Edinchip House. Note: The MacGregor archive is held by the Public Library, Stirling. It consists of nearly 1000 bundles. It has not yet been possible to search the archive.

Loves Auctions, Perth 1980

Private owners, Scotland.

The panel has been cut top and bottom, by <>2 cm at the top (estimate by the late Renate Wodehuysen-Keller at the Hamilton Kerr Institute, based on the position of the hanging holes at the top edge) The reduction at the bottom edge is harder to estimate. The priming layer at the top edge has numerous chips and breaks, indicating that the paint was hard and brittle when the top edge was cut down, some time after the picture was painted.

Dendochronology of the panel was first carried out by J.M.Fletcher at Oxford University in 1983 showing rings spanning the years 1342 to 1501. Fletcher allowed 17-27 rings for absent sapwood giving an earliest date of use of 1520 and likely use 1520-1535. Fletcher's database has subsequently been challenged (5). A more recent dendochronology by Dr Peter Klein of Hamburg University gives ring dates from 1298 to 1513. The latest heartwood ring on the Scots panel was 1513.  From his statistics Klein estimates an earliest felling date of 1522 and earliest creation date from 1524. As always these results depend on the margin of years allowed for trimmed off sapwood.

The face, beard, hair and fur jacket are unfinished. The original biscuit coloured background has been over-painted with a green layer and a partially removed brown glaze.

The under-drawing on the face is now very visible through the paint layer. A wart is visible under the beard hair near the sitter's left ear. On the unfinished fur of the jacket there are hand, moss or sponge marks to provide turning areas for the individual hair details to be painted on top.

On the sitter's right fur lapel there is written the word "Zobel" - German for sable, a very expensive fur. The Dutch for sable is "Sabel". This points us to an interesting combination of  a German speaking artist painting on a Dutch made oak panel. Oak panels are not unknown in German paintings of the period (Cranach used them extensively).

The lower diagonal corners have been over-painted in black, but outlines of quilted material is visible under IRR.

To the right of the picture in the background there are traces of a monogram. The area has been repainted and the monogram is probably spurious.

The sides are cut precisely and straight

The top edge has been crudely cut, the bottom edge has also been cut.

Cutting of the top and bottom edges may have been carried out to fit the picture into an existing frame. An alternative explanation, if the picture is by, or a copy of a Durer and as Durer during his Antwerp period drew and painted a number of portraits with an inscription band at the top naming the sitter, the band might have been removed to deceive Galle into believing that the sitter was Damaio de Gois, when the sitter was actually another.

A high resolution photograph can be downloaded here:-

A high resolution IRR photograph can be downloaded here:-

This reveals under-drawings not visible in the photograph. First, there are pounced dots around the eyes, nose and mouth, indicating that the image was either transferred from paper with pricked holes and then transferred to the panel by pouncing charcoal through the holes or direct pouncing to an oil painting.  While pouncing indicates that an oil painting may have been copied by pricking through an existing drawing for transfer, we know from Durer's two woodcuts in Unter weisung der Messung 1525 showing direct transfer using a machine to prick holes in a sheet of paper, thus taking the perspective outline of a lute. In a second woodcut he shows  taking the image of a sitter, using a different machine. This method, using a wet medium on a sheet of glass, enables the resulting image to be transferred via a sheet of paper by pouncing to a panel (11). this woodcut ‘Der Zeichnerdes sitzenden Mannes’ seems to depict Durer taking the portrait of Emperor Maximilian in his tiny chamber in augsburg Brussels in 1518.

Second at the top edge above the blocked in hat badge there is a double oval, as if the artist was trying out the angle of the badge below.  Third, there is a bold straight line just above the bottom of the picture, which is visible in the fur area of the IRR and likely extends the whole width.  On the left background at the top there are various uninterpreted scribbles and lower there is ? a hand grasping a staff.



Unfinished paintings create problems of attribution  for art historians because the presentation and style as well as the surface finish is not what they are accustomed to with the artist's works. Unfinished pictures may have been finished post mortem by pupils or others. This compounds the difficulties especially with “late” pictures, which are more likely to have been left unfinished at the artist's death. Luckily, the Scots picture has been added to only in the background, which is totally re-painted, and in the bottom corner areas, where unfinished sleeves have been blacked out. The unfinished picture gives us interesting insights into working methods of early 16th C. artists. For instance, the fur jacket is thinly blocked in with a brush. The area to the top of the sitter's left shoulder has been textured on top of a more generous paint application by pressing down with ?the ball of the hand. Slightly below this the paint is textured by the application of the ?side of the hand. The texturing would have supplied origin points for finishing the fur with many individual hairs so that the natural turning areas of the fur can be depicted.

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