Object Image

Portrait of a Man ('Léal Souvenir')

This small portrait is puzzling in many ways. We don't know who this man was or why he is holding a scroll, which is - rather strangely - inscribed on the outside. The painting's tall, narrow shape is unusual and there are mysterious inscriptions carved into the very large, cracked stone parapet which runs across the front.

At the bottom is van Eyck's signature in Latin, and the date of 10 October 1432. Above this are large capitals apparently carved into the stone: LEAL SOVVENIR ('Loyal Remembrance' in French). At the top is a small Latin inscription written in Greek letters: TUM OTHEOS ('then God'). What this means is unclear.

It is possible that it was painted after the sitter's death, in which case the crumbling parapet might be an allusion to man's mortality. His name might have been on the lost frame.

Credit: Bought, 1857

1432
Oil on oak
33.3 x 18.9cm
NG290
Image and text © The National Gallery, London, 2024

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National Gallery