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Past Exhibition

Portrait of a Carthusian Lay Brother

oil painting on wood of monk wearing hooded white robe, with long beard

Petrus Christus
Portrait of a Carthusian Lay Brother, 1446
Oil on panel
11 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (29.2 x 21.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Jules Bache Collection, 1949
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 

 

This portrait was painted by Christus during the middle of Jan Vos’s tenure as prior of Genadedal and most likely depicts another of the monastery’s members. The sitter’s lack of tonsure and beard identifies him as a lay brother, that is, someone who had taken a vow but practiced a more relaxed version of Carthusian life. It seems to be the earliest recorded portrait of a cleric in which the sitter is not shown praying. The young man’s confident, outward gaze suggests that the portrait was intended for a secular setting. It may have been commissioned by his family to celebrate his entry into the order and invoke the presence of the absent sitter, now committed to a life of seclusion.