Dutch and Flemish Art

Michiel Coxcie (Flemish, Mechelen [Malines] 1499 - 1592 Antwerp)
Portrait of Christina of Denmark, 1545
Signed and dated lower right (later addition?): michel cocxyie / pingebat / annorum / 1545
Oil on panel (oak)
27 15/16 x 21 7/8 in. (71 x 55.6 cm)
Mrs. F. F. Prentiss Fund, 1953
AMAM 1953.270

Listen to a podcast about this artwork here

Early in his career, Coxcie painted this portrait of a young duchess, in mourning after the death of her second husband. The artist had recently returned from two years in Rome, and the painting's softly modeled forms reveal an Italian influence. The sitter is depicted very similarly in a portrait by Hans Holbein done in 1538, after the death of her first husband.

Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan and Lorraine (1522-1590), was the daughter of King Christian II of Denmark and Isabella of Aragon. In 1533 she was married by proxy to Francesco Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, who died in 1535. She married Francis, Duke of Lorraine, in 1541, but was widowed again upon his death in 1545. Christina died in Alexandria in 1590.

The sitter in this portrait has previously been identified as Mary of Hungary (1503-1558), who was the aunt of Christina and regent of the Netherlands under Charles V,2 as well as Coxcie's chief patron. However, her facial features, apparent age, and the mourning dress all support the identification as Christina of Denmark. Allowing for differences inherent in frontal vs. three-quarter view, as well as seven years' difference in age, Hans Holbein's full-length portrait of Christina, dated 1538,3 shows the same dark eyes under delicate brows, fleshy cheeks, square jaw, and full lower lip. The sitter's "Italian" mourning dress is virtually identical in the two portraits: the close-fitting black widow's cap, the high-necked black gown relieved only by narrow white frills at the neck and wrists, and the loose black coat or overdress, which in the Holbein portrait is lined with fur, and in the Coxcie, with velvet. Christina wears four rings in the Oberlin portrait, including a death's head memento mori ring on her left hand.

Patricia Rose has proposed a reconstruction of the circumstances that produced the portrait now in Oberlin.4 She suggests that Mary of Hungary commissioned Coxcie to paint a commemorative portrait of her niece, who in 1545 was just widowed for the second time. As Christina remained in seclusion in Lorraine for several months following her husband's death, an oil study was made there from life and sent on to Brussels for Coxcie to work from. This freely handled bust-length sketch is now in the museum at Budapest, as by Coxcie.

There are no other portraits extant from this comparatively early period in Coxcie's career; most of his portraits date somewhat later and confirm the artist's adoption of a harder, more linear style by the 1560s.6 Oberlin's Portrait of Christina of Denmark shows the softer modeling of forms characteristic of works produced by the artist immediately following his return from Rome in 1539.

M. E. Wieseman

Michiel Coxcie (Coxie) was born in 1499, probably in Mechelen (Malines). After training (probably with Bernard [Barent] van Orley [ca. 1490-1541] in Brussels), he traveled to Haarlem and to Rome, where he lived from about 1530 to 1539. Coxcie became a master in the Mechelen Guild of St. Luke on 11 November 1539. Shortly thereafter he moved to Brussels, where in 1542 he became a member of that city's guild of painters. He is first mentioned as court painter to Mary of Hungary in 1546, although he was probably active in that capacity by at least a year earlier (see date on the Oberlin portrait). Coxcie returned to Mechelen, at that time the judicial and religious center of the Netherlands, in about 1563. He was in Antwerp from 1585 until his death in Mechelen on 10 March 1592. Coxcie was extremely prolific; in addition to history paintings, altarpieces, frescos, and portraits, he also made designs for engravings, tapestries, and stained glass windows. His son Rafaël (1540-1616) was also a painter.

General References
Michiel Coxcie, pictor regis (1499-1592). Edited by Raphaël de Smedt. Handelingen van de Koninklijke Kring voor Oudheidkunde, Letteren en Kunst van Mechelen 96, no. 2 (1992). Mechelen, 1993.

Collection Count Arco, Munich

With A. S. Drey, Munich (February 1925)

With M. Knoedler and Company, Inc., New York (1925-1928, as "Mary of Hungary")

With Paul Drey Gallery, New York (from 1928)

Collection Viscount Rothermere (by 1938)

Sale Viscount Rothermere, London (Christie's), 12 December 1947, lot 18 (as "Maria of Hongaria"; £525, to W. Sabin)

With Sabin Galleries, London

With F. Kleinberger and Co., Inc., New York, from whom purchased in 1953

Budapest, Szépmüvézeti Múzeum, 1938. Selected Pictures from Lord Rothermere's Collection. Cat. no. 4 (as Portrait of Christiana of Denmark).

Bruges, Musée Communal, 1953. Le Portrait dans les anciens Pays-Bas. Cat. no. 85.

New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries: Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 31.

Kenwood, London County Council, 1962. An American University Collection: Works of Art from the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio. 3 May - 30 October. Cat. no. 19.

Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, 1963. Le Siècle de Brueghel. 27 September - 24 November. Cat. no. 84.

Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Vassar College Art Gallery, 1964. Sixteenth Century Paintings from American Collections. Cat. no. 5.

Gläck, Gustav. "Bildnisse aus dem Haus Habsburg, II." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s. 8 (1934), pp. 173ff. (as "Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Lorraine").

Selected Pictures from Lord Rothermere's Collection. Exh. cat., Szépmüvézeti Múzeum, Budapest, 1938, cat. no. 4 (as "Christiana of Denmark").

Csánky, Dénes. "Ausstellung der Leihgaben aus der Sammlung Lord Rothermere." Pantheon 22 (1938), pp. 395, 393 ill. (as Christine von Lothringen).

Marlier, Georges. "Altniederländische Bildnisse in Brüssel." Weltkunst 23 (15 August 1953), p. 9 (as "Portrait of a young woman [Christina of Denmark?]," collection Harry Sperling, New York).

van Puyvelde, Leo. La Peinture flamande au siècle de Bosch et Brueghel. Paris, 1962, p. 412 (with erroneous reading of inscription and incorrectly identified as with Harry Sperling [Kleinberger & Co.], New York).

Rose, Patricia. "Christina of Denmark by Michael Coxie." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 21, no. 1 (Fall 1963), pp. 29-51.

Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 39-40, fig. 32.

Pigler, Anton. Katalog der Galerie Alter Meister. Vol. 1. Szépmüvézeti Múzeum, Budapest, 1968, p. 147.

Liedtke, Walter et al. Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, p. 324.

van den Boogert, Bob C. "Michiel Coxcie, hofschilder in dienst van het Hapsburgse huis." In Michiel Coxcie, pictor regis (1499-1592). Edited by Raphaël de Smedt. Handelingen van de Koninklijke Kring voor Oudheidkunde, Letteren en Kunst van Mechelen 96, no. 2 (1992). Mechelen, 1993, pp. 125-26.

Technical Data
The original panel, formed of two vertically grained oak boards, has been thinned to about 1 mm and mounted on composition board, probably in a restoration done in the 1920s. The board is faced on the reverse with an oak veneer, and cradled. The white gesso ground is applied in two or three thin layers. Losses along the join (just right of center, through sitter's face and proper left wrist) have been retouched; there is also scattered, and in some places extensive, retouching in the black drapery. The surface is covered with a thick varnish layer. The surface of the painting--particularly the background--is abraded, and the background itself, presently a flat brownish tone, has been altered/overpainted, probably during a restoration that took place around or just prior to 1925.7 The inscription in gold pigment is likely not original; a "5" is just visible between the "15" and "45" of the date now present.8 Increased paint transparency reveals that the sitter's fingers have been lengthened and their position slightly altered, especially on the proper right hand, possibly by the artist himself. Infra-red examination also shows slight changes in the prayerbook held by the sitter.

1. See Julia A. Cartwright, Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan and Lorraine (New York, 1913).

2. In 1925-28 and again in sale 1947 (see Provenance).

3. Oil on panel, 179 x 82.5 cm, London, The National Gallery, inv. 2475.

4. Patricia Rose, "Christina of Denmark by Michael Coxie," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 21, no. 1 (Fall 1963), esp. pp. 43-45.

5. Oil on panel, 35.3 x 27.5 cm, Budapest, Szépmüvézeti Múzeum, inv. 6709. The painting was in the collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm before 1659. Patricia Rose ("Christina of Denmark by Michael Coxie," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 21, no. 1 [Fall 1963], p. 43) cites this Hapsburg provenance in support of her thesis, noting that Mary of Hungary's collection passed to Leopold Wilhelm during his tenure as regent of the Netherlands, and reasonably suggesting that this study formed part of that collection. The painting is given to Coxcie in the catalogue of the Szépmüvézeti Múzeum; see A. Pigler, Katalog der Galerie Alter Meister, vol. 1 (Budapest, 1968), p. 147.

6. Compare Coxcie's Portrait of a Woman, aged 28, dated 1562 (Béziers, Musée des Beaux Arts, inv. 290) or Portrait of Gilles Gottignies, dated 1560 (formerly collection Comte de Bergeyck, Antwerp, destroyed 1949), as well as several donor portraits on altarpieces of the 1560s through 1580s.

7. In 1934 Gustav Glück ("Bildnisse aus dem Haus Habsburg, II," Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s. 8 [1934], pp. 173ff) recalls the figure as being set against a light green background when he had the opportunity to view the painting in Munich, probably when it was with A. S. Drey in 1925.

8. Patricia Rose ("Christina of Denmark by Michael Coxie," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 21, no. 1 [Fall 1963], p. 32) notes the inconsistencies in handwriting and text of the Latin inscription, in comparison with other signatures by the artist. She suggests that the present signature is a freehand transcription, done during the restoration of the 1920s, of an earlier signature which may or may not have been original.