Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Evidence of a skull trepanning

Alexandru Gh. Sonoc
Sibiu, Romania


Christopher Paudiss painting
Unknown man with a white feather
Christopher Paudiss (1618-1666)
Oil on fire wood panel
Brukenthal National Museum,
Sibiu, Romania

The man shown here wears a blue velvet hat with a white feather and a brown-reddish cloak. Around his neck he has a brocade scarf in red, ocher, and blue. He has long hair, a short moustache, and a short square-shaped facial hair spot (Fliege) on the lower lip. The right hand lies on the chest. The face is very pale, the cheeks made-up red. On his forehead, near a longer strand of hair, there is evidence of trepanning. One could surmise that the portrait was painted after death, when the corpse was made-up to appear more life-like.

In the handwritten catalogue from the early 19th c.,1 the portrait was attributed to Rembrandt. In the first printed catalogue,2 an author was as mentioned Philipp de Koning. In the catalogue of 18933 the painting was considered to be by an unknown painter from the Netherlands. Theodor von Frimmel4 attributed it to Christopher Paudiss, remarking that there are other such pale figures by the same painter. The catalogues of 19015 and 19096 kept this attribution, but spelled the surname of the artist Pauditz. The later research kept this attribution until today.7-10

A similar portrait (painted also on canvas, but of unknown dimensions) was sold at Sotheby’s in London, on April 24, 2008 (lot 357). At an anonymous sale at Mak van Waay in Amsterdam on April 2, 1973 (lot 163) the portrait was attributed to Christoph Paudisz. For a long time it was believed that the painting was a self-portrait. V. Mureșan noted some similarities (even of physiognomic nature) with another portrait, in the National Gallery of Prague, painted in 1661, also believed to be a self-portrait of the painter.8, 9

In the painting sold in London (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paudiss) the face is also very pale, but without make-up and without showing a trepanning, and the hand is not rendered here. However, the clothes are quite similar: only the cloak is brown in the auctioned portrait and the scarf is red and blue. Comparing the two paintings, it can be noted that in the painting sold at Sotheby’s the rendered man was fatter, as suggest by the lower part of his cheeks. In my opinion, it seems that the painting of the Brukenthal National Museum is not be a masterwork of the German artist, as considered before,10 but rather a studio work inspired by the auctioned work and painted perhaps during the last life days before death or even during the exposure of the corpse before the funeral.



  1. Der älteste handschriftliche Katalog – The handwritten catalogue, kept in the Library of the Brukenthal National Museum of Sibiu (mss. 628), ca. 1800. cat. nr. 81.
  2. Die Gemälde- Galerie des freiherrlichen v. Brukenthalischen Museums in Hermannstadt (Hermannstadt: 1844,p. 79, nr. 279 ).
  3. Freiherr Samuel von Brukenthal’sches Museum in Hermannstadt: Führer durch die Gemäldegalerie, herausgegeben von der Museumsverwaltung, vierte Auflage (Hermannstadt:1893, p. 36, cat. nr. 301,).
  4. Theodor von Frimmel, Kleine Galeriestudien, Neue Folge (Wien: Verlag von Gerold & CIE, 1894,p. 52sq.)  ).
  5. M. Csaki, Baron Brukenthal’sches Museum in Hermannstadt. Führer durch die Gemäldegalerie, 5. Aufl. (Hermannstadt: Selbstverlag des Museums, 1901,p. 240sq., cat. nr. 864).
  6. M. Csaki, Baron Brukenthalisches Museum in Hermannstadt. Führer durch die Gemäldegalerie, 6. Aufl. (Hermannstadt: Selbstverlag des Museums, 1909, p. 262sq., cat. nr. 879).
  7. Valentin Mureșan, Caravaggio- Einflüsse in den deutschen und österreichischen Gemälden des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts in der Brukenthalschen Sammlung, in: Forschungen zur Volks- und Landeskunde (Sibiu), 39/1-2 (1996), pp. 99-100.
  8. Valentin Mureșan, Barocul în pictura germană și austriacă din secolele XVII-XVIII (Colecția Muzeului Brukenthal) (Sibiu: TechnoMedia,1996, 59-60).
  9. Valentin Mureșan, Pictura germană și austriacă din colecția Brukenthal (Sibiu: Editura ALTIP, 2007,124).
  10. Valentin Mureșan, Formă și culoare, decor și mișcare. Pictura Barocului german și austriac în colecția Pinacotecii Brukental. Studii (Sibiu: Editura ALTIP, 2009,51).


Related article

Medical art from the Brukenthal Museum, Sibiu, Romania



ALEXANDRU GH. SONOC, PhD, MA, MS, Brukenthal National Museum, Sibiu, Romania


Summer 2014  |  Sections  |  Art Flashes

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