The thriving trade centers of the Netherlands provided an international market for talented artists such as Memling. However, the plain coat worn by the subject of this portrait offers no clue to his nationality, occupation, or rank. The serious, firmly modeled head suggests a man who was not only forceful but thoughtful. Although he is physically placed close to the viewer, his body pressed against the frame, he appears aloof and removed from the world. Panels such as this often served as covers or wings for small private altarpieces, but it seems probable that the Frick example, like many others dating from the second half of the fifteenth century, was commissioned as an independent painting.
Memling was one of the most admired portraitists of his day, in Italy as well as in Northern Europe, owing both to his skill in capturing physical likenesses and to his even rarer gift of conveying, as in this portrait, the intellectual and spiritual character of his subjects.
Source: Art in The Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.