Artists of Northern Europe, Flemish primitives, Portraiture, Royal Portraits, Subjects for discussion, Symbols and emblems

Solve the puzzle of this 16th century painting for a £5,000 reward!

Recently I was contacted by Susan Abernathy suggesting I might be able to help the owner of this painting who has owned the panel for the past thirty odd years and is still none the wiser as to who painted it, what it commemorates, who is portrayed and where it has been until it was purchased by the current owner.  With all the knowledge out there on the web it is possible that we can solve this mystery. Thank you Susan for this introducing me to this intriguing puzzle.

There is a £5,000 reward on offer for anyone who can supply the answers to all four following questions: what is the scene? Who are the people? Who painted it and where has it been up to when it was purchased by the collector? The owner’s website also states that there could be lesser sums for convincing evidence solving some of the questions.

The dimensions of the actual painting are 111 x 45 cms and the frame is a modern one.

In addition, there has been a certain amount of scientific analysis undertaken.  The IRR (infra-red reflectography) shows this is an original work of art.  What this way of analysis has also revealed is that the central pillar was once two.  One of the conclusions drawn was that this single panel was once two and at some point in its history it has been made into one.  When this was done is not known, but it is possible that it was during the 19thcentury when the painting was mounted on to another panel.  The IRR shows there is a clear divide down the central line from top to bottom of the painting, which further suggests it was once two separate images.  The conclusion drawn was that it was probably two outer images of wings enclosing either a diptych or triptych.  

Unfortunately the sliver of wood of the original panel(s) is so slim that it has proved impossible to do any dendrochonology on the wafer thin slice of wood remaining as the backing and the image has subsequently been remounted on balsa board.  As far as I have been able to ascertain, no specific type of the original wood has been identified.

As to attributions of the artist or atelier, you can rule out any artist who died before 1500 as the fashions are definitely from later in the 16thcentury.  The date given in the scientific reports suggest a date of c1540-1550.

There are various suggestions on the website as to what this event commemorates and much has been made of the octagonal tile on which the two central figures stand.  Similar tiles can be seen in the images on the outside of the wings of the Grevarade altarpiece by Hans Memling (c1440-1494) and various other works of religious art. The dimensions of the Memling altarpiece outer wings are 205 x 75 cms so a similar rectangular shape to our slightly smaller painting.   

Research into the provenance has been limited to the identification of the label on the reverse being from the a sale by the Lepke auction house in 1934.  The whereabouts of the painting prior to this remains a mystery, and the website details how questions asked of the English auction house that sold it later revealed nothing.  

What the owner is hoping is that someone out there has some knowledge of this painting, or access to databases that might give a clue as to how it came to be in England.  Did it once belong to a family who had the sense to leave Germany in 1934?  Do you agree that the sittters are Francis I and Charles V?  Personally I don’t, but you will have to make up your own minds.  Do you agree that it commemorates the 1529 Treaty of Cambrai?  I don’t think so.  And finally, who do you think painted it, or is it a workshop piece done by several hands?  

There are comments boxes on the pages of the website for you to submit your ideas to the owner for consideration. Or you can leave me a comment.

I will write an article about what I think this painting is all about in a couple of months time when I have done some more research. In the meantime, let us get the discussion going as to what this painting is all about, who might have painted it, where it has been for the past four hundred odd years and who are the characters standing around watching the confrontation between the two central figures.  

By the way, I’m not one of the judges and the owner is the one who will determine who has the most convincing, or indeed, possibly irrefutable evidence for the answers to ALL four questions.

Good luck!

6 thoughts on “Solve the puzzle of this 16th century painting for a £5,000 reward!”

  1. I think it depicts the ” Kings Great Matter’. The separation of Henry viii and Katherine of aragon.
    Katherine with Fisher etc on the right.
    Henry viii being berated by Rome on the left.


  2. I think it depicts Henry viii versus Katherine of aragon, divorce.
    Katherine on the right. Fisher.
    Henry being berated by rome on the left.
    As the universities of Europe were used to decuss divorce it is understandable it was painted in Europe.


    1. Far too late as that was old history by the time the painting was created in 1540. Katharine was long dead and a lot of water had passed under the bridge, plus you are ignoring the evidence of the facial types. Do use the contact form on the painting’s website to let the owner know your thoughts as he is the arbiter.


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