Iffy Attributions for some Old Master paintings at Dorotheum’s April sale – UPDATED with Sale Results
The April 17, 2013 Old Master paintings sale at Dorotheum, the Austrian auction house, has a fair number of works by well known and lesser known artists that have not been previously published or are newly attributed. Recently discovered or previously mis-attributed works that come to auction are frequently sale highlights, or at least they help energize interest, and in the past Dorotheum has been the source of some wonderful finds (including Frans Francken’s delightfully wacky Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma – The Choice Between Virtue and Vice).
But, I’m skeptical about some of the new attributions, at least based on illustrations in the online and printed catalogues. Lot 643, The Adoration of the Shepherds is attributed to Guido Reni (above), but the figuration is very awkward and clumsy at best and the painting lacks the skill and finesse characteristic of the artist. It comes with the blessings of Nicholas Turner and the late Sir Denis Mahon, but I remain unconvinced (UPDATE: Clearly there was a buyer who disagreed with me. That said, I still believe this is not legit). I’m equally suspect of Lot 639, a Madonna and Child (below), a previously unpublished work purportedly by Guercino that also has Turner’s blessing.
Then there’s lot 569, a Madonna and Child (below), which may or may not be by Parmigianino. It last appeared at auction 11 months ago (Sotheby’s, May 2, 2012, Lot 31), given to “Parmese School of the 16th century.” There was no provenance or history of previous attributions. The work was estimated at ₤7,000-10,000 and sold for ₤34,850 (or $56,537, including the buyer’s premium). Since then, it has gotten a bath and a round of endorsements as an autograph work, yet it’s still catalogued as “Circle of.”
We are grateful to Professor Mina Gregori, who has endorsed the present work as a fully autograph work by Parmigianino after examining the present painting in the original after recently cleaning (written communication). We are also grateful to Dr. Emilio Negro and Dr. Nicosetta Roio for independently identifying the present picture as a fully autograph work by Parmigianino (written communication). Professor David Ekserdijan has reconfirmed his opinion, already expressed in 2012, that the present painting is probably based on a lost model by Parmigianino.
Again, I don’t think it’s quite right. The physiognomy of Parmigianino’s Mannerist figures was characteristically elongated, but not clumsy, as I find several passages in the present picture to be.
Also in the newly discovered category is Lot 602, The Mocking of Christ (below), given to Jusepe de Ribera and executed 1620-24. According to the lot notes: “The attribution of this previously unpublished painting to Jusepe de Ribera has been confirmed by Professor Nicola Spinosa. The present canvas is an important and significant addiction to the oeuvre of the Spanish master.” Stylistically, it very Caravaggesque and the figure sticking out his tongue is reminiscent of similar imagery by Hendrick ter Brugghen. However, the painting is obscured by dirt and grime making it difficult to read the details. Consequently, I reserve judgement.
The catalogue entry says: “The present painting can be compared to Ribera’s composition of the same subject, the Mocking of Christ and Crowing with Thorns (below), which was executed by Ribera after he left Rome for Naples in 1616,” and is in the Casa d’Alba collection in Seville, Spain.
The catalogue notes include the following:
As in the Mocking of Christ from the Alba collection, the present painting shows the extraordinary juxtaposition between a theatrical interpretation and the use of realism. The figures are placed within a narrow space in order to allow a stronger emphasis on the facial expression of the boy in the centre. The figure of Christ, with an accentuated powerful effect of strength and his expressive intensity, closely resembles the Ecce Homo in the Real Academia of San Fernando in Madrid also painted by Ribera around 1620. Even though the figure of Christ is represented in different positions in the other compositions, they all share a physical resemblance that may be due to the repeated use of the same model for the paintings. The image of Christ in the present painting, his face dripping with blood and intensely concentrated in pain, looking straight at the viewer, may have been influenced by Titian, with whom the Spanish artist was very familiar.