The silverpoint, a drawing lead made of a silver alloy, was used primarily during the early period of drawing, in the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century. Its use was quite laborious, because the paper first had to be grounded with chalk so that the fine, valuable-looking lines could be made by the metal tip. The draughtsman of 'The Falconer' has executed a portrait which fills the sheet with lines of differing speed and structure. We do not know who the subject of the portrait is. He is wearing an expensive hat made of two kinds of fur, and the hunting falcon on his left arm could indicate that he is a man of high social rank, or that the taming of falcons is his profession. The facial features have been executed with the greatest care, with the fine, short strokes of the silverpoint blending to form surfaces which create a lively impression of skin, lips and eyebrows. The particular concentration on the face indicates that the drawing served to record the physiognomy for a painted portrait. The rest of the execution of the drawing is rapid and sketchy, but makes use of the possibilities of the silverpoint to create the light effects of a painting. This could mean that the sheet was to be presented to a client as a model. In the end, this is an artwork created with its own particular power and which was carefully preserved across the centuries.
In the mid-nineteenth century Johann David Passavant, who was also responsible for the acquisition of the famous Old Netherlandish paintings in the Städel Gallery, recognised the quality of the sheet. He acquired it for a small sum as part of a mixed lot, where it was listed as a work by Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441). Passavant himself believed it to be a work from the hand of Roger van der Weyden (ca. 1399-1464). Today's research, however, attributes 'The Falconer' to the Bruges-based artist Petrus Christus, an important artist and an immediate successor of Jan van Eyck.