Jacob Obrecht

Quinten Metsys1496

Kimbell Art Museum

Kimbell Art Museum

The gilt Gothic inscription on this masterpiece of Renaissance portraiture identifies the sitter as Jacob Obrecht (1457/58-1505), a renowned choirmaster and one of the greatest composers of his age. On the original attached frame is inscribed both the date of the painting, 1496, and the sitter's age, 38. Born in Ghent, Obrecht led a peripatetic career, taking posts in Bergen op Zoom, Cambrai, Bruges, and Antwerp. Such was his international standing, he was invited to the court of Ferrara by Duke Ercole I d'Este. He died from the plague, eulogized as "a most learned musician, second in the art to no one, in respect to either voice or cleverness of invention." The painting, possibly the left-hand side of a diptych, would have faced a complementary panel of a religious subject. Preserved in exceptional condition, it is remarkable for the virtuosity of details such as the folds of Obrecht's lace-trimmed surplice and the soft gray fur of the almuce (the badge of office of a canon, including the choral clergy) draped over his arm. The identity of the artist has long remained a mystery. Recent study of the portrait in the Museum's department of conservation has led to a new attribution: the painting is the earliest dated work by the Netherlandish master Quinten Metsys. Just thirty years old when the painting was completed, Metsys went on to become one of the most successful painters residing in the city of Antwerp. The technical refinement of the paint layers, from the finely hatched brushstrokes in the hands to the smoothly blended flesh tones, suggests that the artist used a mixed medium of egg tempera and oil. Metsys was skilled at the representation of telling details of his sitters' appearance: the gentle textures of skin on Obrecht's fingers or on his neck; his carefully delineated fingernails or the shape of his mouth; the discreet stubble of his beard or his clear, bright eye.

Show lessRead more


  • Title: Jacob Obrecht
  • Creator: Quinten Metsys
  • Date Created: 1496
  • Physical Dimensions: 20 1/4 x 14 1/4 in. (51.4 x 36.2 cm)
  • Provenance: Grati Baroni de Piqueras [b. 1925], Paris; (sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 15 January 1993, no. 139); purchased through (Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York) by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1993.
  • Rights: Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
  • External Link: www.kimbellart.org
  • Medium: Tempera, oil, and gold on panel
  • Century: 15th century