This is not a portrait of Andreas Vesalius. The picture may belong to the Venetian School but it is definitely not painted by Titian. It has been attributed to Jan Stephan van Calcar, but the analogy with his woodcut portrait of the Flemish anatomist that is in the Fabrica, and the only one of which he, Vesalius approved, is weak.
Spielmann admits, though: “So living a portrait is it that if it were really a likeness of Vesalius it would from the pictorial point of view do honour to the father of modern anatomy. The quiet gaze is full of dignity, the expression sad to melancholy, the character forceful. The hair is glossy, straight, and silky, and not curly (as in the Fabrica) and it is brushed forward into a point in the middle of the forehead, (…). The figure is life-size and standing, presenting a three-quarters view. He wears a very dark green robe with a small white ruffled collar tied with a golden cord. The attitude is easy, with the back of the right wrist resting on the hip; the left arm leans upon a Roman sarcophagus, as it appears to be, of marble or alabaster, sculptured in relief, on which accessory are seen the figurines of two men (or a man and a woman) engaged in some kind of struggle. (…) The left hand, the third finger of which displays a fine ruby, holds a pair of gloves”, a detail which is little suggestive of a man such as Vesalius. On the right hangs a green curtain against a fawn-coloured background of a soft, clear tone.”
Apart from the pair of gloves that doesn’t embody a 16th-century physician, unless Spielmann refers to the fancy ring: “The design on the sarcophagus or altar suggests neither anatomist nor doctor, unless the symbolism of strife is intended to be indicative of Vesalius's career, in which case it hopelessly misses its mark. Why should this piece of antiquity figure in a portrait of Vesalius ? Why these figurines, introduced as incongruously as the Venus and Cupid in the (Vesalius’s) portrait of the Museo Civico in Padua and what connection have they anyway with a man of science ? They are all very well in portraits such as Tischbein's picture of Goethe in the Staedel Institute at Frankfort but in the likeness of an anatomist !”
Spielmann wonders, and rightly so, whether the sitter is not rather an antiquary, a collector or an archaeologist, as in the case of other alleged portraits of Vesalius.
This taphophile is none of the above but he likes the sarcophagus. However, contrary to Spielmann, he doesn’t see: “two men (or a man and a woman) engaged in some kind of struggle?” This is clearly not a struggle, nor mythical neither heroic. There is some similarity, though, with this scene of men and women laying out a corpse, on a relief in a cemetery, just around the corner in Copenhagen, isn’t it?
In any case, the pair of gloves and the fancy ruby ring, luxury accessories, are as ephemeral as our lives. As a Montblanc ‘Boheme’ fountain Pen, for that matter.
Lars Daniel is a photographer who lives in Copenhagen and is recognised for his portrait photography. “For me, it is essential”, he says, “to capture my feelings and sensations for the human being in front of the camera, and to express them in a look that best reflects my subject.”
For this taphophile, Lars Daniel went for a pastiche portrait, not mocking but celebrating, tongue in cheek, Vesalius and the ephemeral.