The fourth son of a family of painters, Ulrich Apt (1460-1532) trained and worked in Augsburg, becoming an important member of the Guild of Painters, Glaziers, Carvers and Gilders. He concentrated on religious commissions and portraits of leading citizens of Augsburg society, his conservative style clearly appealing to his patrons. His most important civic commission was to paint the Rathaus in 1516: it appears that Apt and his circle established a monopoly in mural painting in Augsburg, and the taxes he paid suggest he became very wealthy. His three sons worked with him and he trained several Augsburg artists of the next generation. His most famous surviving paintings are two wings of an altarpiece dated 1510, the Adoration of the Shepherds (Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe) and the Adoration of the Kings (Musée du Louvre, Paris). These two panels and a portrait of an elderly man in the Liechtenstein collection, Vaduz, are signed APT and considered to be autograph.
This painting is a marriage portrait: the numbers 52, 35 and 1512 indicate that the man was 52 and the woman 35 on their marriage in 1512. A church holds the central position in the landscape between the couple. The husband, in a gown possibly lined with marten, is set against the open landscape with a castle at his back, suggesting that he is part of the world of affairs, while the wife’s domestic realm is alluded to by her enclosure within the house and placement against a blank wall. Probably on display in the family home, Apt’s portrait shows a new self-assurance of the bourgeois class in Augsburg.The painting is on limewood (linden), with a small amount of underdrawing on the woman registering with infrared reflectography. The clearly delineated features of the man in Apt’s portrait can be compared with those of Martin Weiss depicted as the king on the left in the Adoration of the Kings. The motif of the view through a window to a finely detailed landscape was derived from artists such as Hans Memling and shows the strength of Netherlandish influence in Augsburg from the 1460s. It was old-fashioned by this date; Hans Holbein the Elder was introducing architectural settings in his portraits. The landscape divided up by light-coloured ribbon-like paths is reminiscent of two other paintings by Apt and his workshop: the Massacre of the Innocents (Blasiuskirche, Kaufbeuren) and the Altarpiece of Saints Narcissus and Matthew (known as the ‘University Altar’, Alte Pinakothek, Munich). The attention to fine detail and the meticulous foliage of the trees is also found in the backgrounds to his Karlsruhe and Louvre altarpiece wings. Two other versions of this double portrait survive, one in the Schroder collection, London (previously A. von Hildebrand, Florence), and the other in the Metropolitan Museum, New York (previously Steinmeyer collection, Munich). All three appear to have been executed by different artists, but from the same workshop. A tracing for the figures was shared since they match so closely. The Schroder version is of the highest quality and all of it could well be by Ulrich Apt himself. Although the Royal Collection painting was previously thought to be a seventeenth-century copy of that in the Schroder collection, recent cleaning and conservation has revealed that it is a very good version by Apt and his workshop. It has smooth modelling throughout and a more carefully delineated landscape than in the other versions. The survival of three versions of the same painting is unique in Apt’s work.
Sir Henry Vane, Comptroller and then Treasurer of Charles I’s Household, probably acquired the portrait of a ‘Germaine’ and his wife ‘by some good Germaine painter’ in Germany in 1631. Abraham van der Doort records that he gave it to Charles I, who had it in his Cabinet Room in Whitehall Palace. Sold to Wright at the Commonwealth sale as by Quinten Massys, it was recovered at the Restoration. By 1697 it had been attributed to Holbein the Younger and in the nineteenth century was thought to be a portrait of his parents. This tradition continued until Feuchtmayr correctly identified the artist in 1928.
Catalogue entry adapted from The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein, London 2011
Given to Charles I by Sir Henry Vane