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Portrait of Jacob Obrecht, 1496 [detail] by Quinten Metsys (1466-1530). Kimbell Art Museum.

Click the Listen button above to hear Kimbell Art Museum Director of Conservation Claire Barry discuss the mystery behind a portrait of Flemish composer Jacob Obrecht with the host of Early Music Now (and Obrecht fan) Sara Schneider.

The Flemish composer Jacob Obrecht (1457-1505) probably never dreamed that something of his would end up in the New World. But since the early 1990s a wonderfully preserved portrait of the composer has hung in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. There's never been any doubt about who the sitter is—he's clearly identified by the inscription in gold leaf at the top of the painting. But who was the artist? That question puzzled art historians for years.

The Director of Conservation at the Kimbell, Claire M. Barry, conducted a detailed examination of the portrait at the time of acquisition. "We shared technical images with every scholar," Ms. Barry said. "It stumped everyone. No one could link the painting to a specific master." But eventually, her work was instrumental to the research that solved the mystery.

In 2018, Rafael Barrientos Martinez and Larry Silver published an article in the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art, attributing the portrait of Obrecht to Quinten Metsys (1466-1530). "It was a perfect marriage of what conservation can contribute and what an art historian can bring," Ms. Barry said. "When those two fields are brought together, magic can happen! This becomes the earliest known painting by Quinten Metsys. His early career remained largely a mystery to scholars."

Bonus listening: Hear a pair of Jacob Obrecht's masses at this link