European
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Joos van Cleve, the elder (Flemish, 1480/85–1540),
Young Man With a Pink , ca.1520
oil on panel, 20 x 13 ¾ in.; 50.8 x 34.92 cm
Museum purchase, 1943.37

After the unworldly, pious Middle Ages, Renaissance humanism placed renewed emphasis on the visible world and on the individual’s role within it. As a result, portraiture enjoyed great popularity. Northern European portraits are distinguished by their straightforward descriptiveness and evocation of personality. Characteristically crowding the pictorial space, this sitter’s features emerge sharply outlined from a neutral dark background. His expression suggests confidence and sensitivity, and the materials of his fine clothing (linen, velvet, fur) are convincingly rendered. The carnation, or pink, in the young man’s hand is symbolic, indicating that the painting commemorated his betrothal.

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