Gossaert's portrait shows a merchant seated in a cramped yet cozy space, surrounded by the tools of his trade. Scattered over the table are such useful items as a talc shaker used to dry ink, an ink pot, a pair of scales for testing the weight (and hence the quality) of coins, and a metal receptacle for sealing wax, quill pens, and paper. Attached to the wall are balls of twine and batches of papers labeled "miscellaneous letters" and "miscellaneous drafts." The monogram on the sitter's hat pin and index finger ring have led to his tentative identification as Jerome Sandelin, who was a tax collector in Zeeland. This region, on the southern coast of present-day Holland, was also the home of Jan Gossaert for approximately the last ten years of his life.

The artist's Netherlandish love of detail and texture combine with his admiration for the massiveness of Italian High Renaissance art to achieve here what might be termed a monumentality of the particular. At the same time, the sitter's furtive glance and prim mouth are enough to inform us of the insecurity and apprehension that haunted bankers in the 1530s, when the prevailing moral attitude was summed up by the Dutch humanist Erasmus, who asked, "When did avarice reign more largely and less punished?"


  • Title: Portrait of a Merchant
  • Date Created: c. 1530
  • Physical Dimensions: w475 x h636 cm (overall)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on panel
  • Theme: portrait, male
  • School: Netherlandish
  • Provenance: The Marquesses of Lansdowne, London and Bowood, Wiltshire, by 1866; sold by Lord Landsown in January 1967 to (Thos. Agnew & Sons, London);[1] purchased January 1967 by NGA. [1] First exhibited in this year; London, British Institution, 1866, Exhibitions of Works by Ancient Masters, no. 70. The citation was provided by Lorne Campbell. The date of the exhibition is sometimes erroneously given as 1886. Acquisition and sales date per Stockbook no. 5664, Thomas Agnew & Sons, London.
  • Artist: Jan Gossaert

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