Beautiful $13.6 Million Book of Hours and Choice $8.9 million Bassano lead Christies Jan. 2014 Old Masters Sale
ORIGINAL POST: The January 29, 2014 Old Masters sale at Christie’s in New York is crowded with intriguing and desirable works, starting with a beautiful Netherlandish Book of Hours from the early 16th-century. Though I’m quick to call out auction house hyperbole, this time the exaltations are worthy:
The Rothschild Prayerbook is one of the group of spectacular manuscrits-de-luxe produced around 1490 to 1520 for an international clientele and members of the Habsburg court in the Netherlands. Vast undertakings, they achieved completion — unlike so many earlier ambitious manuscript projects — through the efficient co-ordination of labour and the collaboration of several artists and their workshops.
The Rothschild Book of Hours includes work by Gerard Horenbout, Simon Benning and his father, Alexander Benning (also know as the Master of the Older Prayerbook), and Gerard David, who painted the image of the Madonna and Child on a Crescent Moon (above).The lot that surprised me is this Adoration of the Shepherds by Jacapo Bassano, specifically it’s $8-12 million estimate – and it carries a third party guarantee, so it will be sold. Jacopo Bassano ranked with Titian, Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto as among the most significant 16th-century artists in the Veneto, yet today he is not as well known as his peers. This is a particularly handsome example of his work – the details of the three shepherds (it has been suggested that they represent the three ages of man), particularly the oldest one kneeling in the foreground (Bassano’s pictures often have kneeling figures with legs tucked closely beneath them). The figure of St. Peter on the right is unusually imposing – even though he’s reclining, they way he engages the viewer verges on intimidating. More about the artist from the lot notes:
Jacopo Bassano, known as such because he was born in the town of Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto, was the son of a provincial painter, Francesco, and after working with him was sent to Venice where he trained with Bonifazio de’ Pitati. In Venice he would have been exposed to the work of Titian and Pordenone, whose influence is apparent in early works such as the Supper at Emmaus (Fort Worth, Kimbell Museum) of 1538. In the 1540s Pordenone’s influence–seen in the tendency to crowd figures into a curve in the foreground–is combined with a Lombard naturalism perhaps inspired by Savoldo and a colorism reminiscent of Lorenzo Lotto. By 1540, Jacopo had returned to live in his native Bassano where he would remain for the rest of his life. However, he traveled frequently to Venice and was clearly abreast of the current artistic trends there.
First, the biographical background from the sale catalogue:
Paolo di Giovanni Fei was among the leading Sienese painters of the 14th century. Influenced by the earlier masters of the Sienese Trecento including Duccio, Ugolino, the Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini, Fei also looked to the art of his closer contemporaries, Bartolo di Fredi and Andrea Vanni, as he developed his own style. First recorded as a painter in 1369, Fei’s earliest secure works date from 1381. His name is mentioned in the 1389 register of painters enrolled in the Breve dell’Arte, and between 1395 and 1400 he is documented as working in the Siena Cathedral. Although he is known to have undertaken major public commissions, Fei’s extant oeuvre mainly consists of small, exquisitely-wrought panels for private devotion, of which the present work is an important example.
The picture is characteristic work that also retains its original engaged frame “inlaid with small cabochon stones and medallions of reverse-painted glass, orverre églomisé.” It’s being offloaded by the estate of Barbara Piasecka Johnson with proceeds to benefit her eponymous foundation.
This is a so-so work in so-so condition by a very talented artist – it’s begin sold by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to the lot notes:
Though long attributed to the master himself, more recent scholarship has convincingly associated this Madonna of Humility with an artist in Lorenzo’s workshop, which included, among others, the young Fra Angelico. However, Federico Zeri (loc. cit.) has argued that while executed by a close associate, the design of the present work must have been invented by the master himself. Zeri suggests The Madonna of Humility was painted c. 1405-1410, while Eisenberg (loc. cit.) favors a dating of c. 1408-1410.
Actually, for more than 40 years the attribution on this work has bounced between the artist, the artist and workshop and just plain workshop. Moreover, both scholars cited above say this is a workshop picture. That lack of consensus and it’s questionable condition could prove fatal.
This is a splendid picture by Leiden fijnschilder Frans van Mieris – intimate in scale and rich in detail. The photo would appear to make the lush sleeves look in more contrast to the rest of the clothing than is actually the case. From the lot notes:
Van Mieris was apparently fascinated with the subject of the seated traveler, as it appears elsewhere in his oeuvre. A similar figure can be found in The Painter in his Studio in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden …
The theme of the traveler is part of a long tradition in Netherlandish art, of which perhaps the best-known prototype is Hieronymus Bosch’s The Pedlar in the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam … Like Van Mieris’ protagonist, Bosch’s figure has a bag, hat, stick and untidy clothing. The Pedlar has been interpreted as embodying the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the young man who squanders his inheritance on frivolous amusements in a distant land before returning home repentant, or, alternatively, as representing all mankind, striving to improve himself even as he is surrounded by opportunities for sin … The meaning of Van Mieris’ traveler is similarly complex: he is unambiguously drinking and living as a vagrant, yet his clear, intelligent gaze and handsome features distinguish him from the boorish peasants of [Adriaen] Brouwer and [David] Teniers [II]. A possible pendant, similar in size and also on copper, is Van Mieris’ The Broken Egg in the Hermitage Museum. In this painting, a woman sits on the ground beside a basket of eggs, staring forlornly at one that has broken on the ground beside her, perhaps referring to her lost virginity … Together, the two pictures might signify a narrative linking her unhappy expression with the traveler’s vagrancy, although the ambiguity of Van Mieris’ imagery prevents a single, definitive interpretation.
This is a peculiar picture that would benefit from a bath, but is not without charm. From the lot notes:
The 18th century witnessed a second Golden Age of Venetian culture: though the city was no longer a great political power, it had reemerged as an artistic capital, home to luminaries such as Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, Giambattista Piazzetta, and Giambattista Piranesi. Its greatest artistic dynasty, though, was without doubt the Tiepolo family workshop, in which the young Giandomenico trained under his father Giambattista and traveled with him to assist on vast decorative commissions in Wurzburg (1750-1752) and Madrid (1762-1770). In these early years, Giandomenico’s style was meant to blend seamlessly with that of his father, and some of his youthful works are barely distinguishable from Giambattista’s. Indeed, the present picture and its pendant Dancing the Minuet … which most recently sold at Christie’s, London (£1,308,500), were for many years thought to be works by the elder Tiepolo.
The catalogue notes open with this: “In exceptionally fine condition, this tender representation of the Annunciation is a rare, early painting by the South Netherlandish master, Jan Provost. Considered by Max J. Friedländer one of the most important exponents of the Renaissance as it was interpreted in the Low Countries, Provost was an extraordinarily inventive artist, never repeating his compositions and often striving for the esoteric and enigmatic in his paintings.”
Though I am a fan of the artist, I am not a fan of this painting. There is a certain lack of pictorial cohesion – the geometry of the room acts against rather than supports the primary narrative.
This is a highly important artist and a personal favorite of mine. I am, however, a little taken aback by the estimate. From the lot notes:
Conceived on an intimate scale, it originally formed the right half of a portable diptych, which could open and close like a book to be conveniently carried and displayed by travelers. David represents the Virgin Mary cradling Christ’s ashen body in her arms, while Saint John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene grieve behind them.
A popular subject in Netherlandish Renaissance art, The Lamentation depicts a moment immediately after Christ is taken down from the Cross. While the Deposition is briefly described by all four Evangelists, the specific episode represented here does not appear in the Gospels. David’s source was likely the Meditations on the Life of Christ, a widely read text that promoted a deep, personal connection with the sufferings of Jesus. Probably written in the late-13th century by an anonymous Franciscan friar called the Pseudo-Bonaventura, the book offers a detailed account of the events following the Crucifixion, specifying that Mary Magdalene and Saint John the Evangelist were both present while Mary mourned for her son. The motif of the Virgin embracing her son cheek-to-cheek, however, ultimately derives from a Byzantine icon type known as the Threnos.
Lost to notice until its discovery in a private European collection in 1998, this beautiful Self-Portrait as a Lute Player is by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the leading painters of the Baroque age and among the boldest and most powerfully expressive woman painters in history. Born in Rome, Artemisia studied with her father, the prominent artist Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), who introduced her to the dramatic realism of Caravaggio and the practice of painting from live models. In 1611, when she was 17, she was sexually assaulted by her father’s business associate and fellow artist Agostino Tassi, a crime against the family’s honor. When Tassi reneged on his promise to marry Artemisia, Orazio brought charges against him, and at the end of a protracted trial, Tassi was convicted and sentenced to a 5-year banishment from Rome. To minimize the scandal which the trial had engendered, Orazio arranged for Artemisia to marry the minor Florentine painter, Pierantonio Stiattesi, and at the end of 1612, the couple moved to Florence, where they would live until 1620.
Once belonging to Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, this splendid, recently discovered Still Life with musical instruments is among the masterpieces of Evaristo Baschenis, the preeminent still life painter of 17th-century Italy. An ordained priest and practicing musician in his native Bergamo, Baschenis invented the subject of the musical still life and became its most celebrated practitioner. His fascination with musical instruments, which he himself collected, was likely influenced by the contemporary fame of the Amati family of violin-makers in nearby Cremona, whom he may have known. While Baschenis’s dramatically illuminated, acutely naturalistic still lifes surely owe a debt to Caravaggio and the 17th-century Dutch, Flemish, and Spanish still life masters, their quiet poetry and exquisite harmonies of color and form reflect his own unique sensibility.
At present, there are only four signed works by “Giovanni da Bologna, one of the most faithful pupils of Lorenzo Veneziano (fl. 1356-1372), the leading Venetian painter of the second half of the 14th century. Although Giovanni’s career remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, recent efforts to reassess his development have uncovered numerous documents, including several which show that he worked in Treviso in the late 1370s and early 1380s. He is also recorded as living in Venice from 1383-1385, where he seems to have primarily remained for the rest of his career, writing his will in that city in October 1389.”
It is rare to see a 13th century Italian painting at auction:
[T]he present composition is inspired by the iconography known as the ‘Hodegetria’ type, which translates to ‘she who shows the way’. Associated with a lost Byzantine icon showing the Virgin Mary thought to have been painted from life by Saint Luke himself, this format was taken up by numerous painters of the 13th-century, who hoped to achieve an accurate depiction of the Mother of God. The most celebrated example of the so-called ‘Hodegetria’ was once kept in a home in Constantinople run by blind guides (hod*e*goi), whence the name. In such images, the Christ child, shown slightly off to one side of the composition, is presented as a teacher or ancient philosopher, dressed in a toga, holding a scroll while blessing the viewer with his empty hand. The Madonna’s proper right hand gestures toward her son, who will lead the way to salvation, while the elegant golden fringe on her mantle, as seen here at left, denotes her royal status as Queen of Heaven.
The posture and gestures of the Madonna have been conceived in such a way as a to emphasize her three-dimensionality as well as her expressiveness. Instead of facing the viewer squarely, she is turned at a slight angle to the picture plane, underscoring her bulk while at the same time emphasizing her protective stance towards her son, whom she gently supports on her lap. The placement of her hands, while recalling the Hodegetria type, underscores her caring, motherly attitude, instead of presenting him stiffly to the viewer, as was frequently the case in other such representations at the time. In this guise, she is more than Queen of Heaven: she is a human mother as well. Her gently inclined head and plaintive gaze add to the emotional tenor of the image, inviting the viewer to share in her love for her son as well as her future suffering. In the 1260s and 1270s, such innovations were truly remarkable: thisMadonna and Child thus provides an early glimpse of the human, earthly aspect of Christ’s life which would become the great devotional preoccupation of the Renaissance.
Despite some obvious condition issues, this is a splendid work by Arentino that should clean well:
Born in Arezzo around 1350, Spinello Aretino received major commissions throughout his life in his native city, as well as in Lucca, Florence, Pisa, and Siena. A passionate respondent to the work of Giotto’s immediate followers, such as Andrea di Cione, called Orcagna, and his brothers Nardo and Jacopo di Cione, Spinello soon became one of the most famous Tuscan painters of the late Trecento; by the early 15th century, his renown was such that he was awarded commissions for work in the Duomo (1404) and Palazzo Pubblico (1407) in Siena.
Born and baptized in Dordrecht, Bol went to Amsterdam to study with Rembrandt in about 1636, and probably remained in the studio until about 1641. Some scholars have proposed that Bol may have even become an assistant to the older master, a level of responsibility suggested by his having witnessed a document in 1640 concerning the inheritance of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh (1612-1642). Like that of his teacher, Bol’s oeuvre largely consists of history pictures, portraits, and genre figures dressed in exotic costumes. Bol also remained deeply influenced by Rembrandt’s palette, technique, and compositions through the 1640s. Bol was successful throughout his entire career, and by the mid-1650s was unrivalled by any of his contemporaries in Amsterdam in receiving official commissions.
Datable to c. 1642, the present Portrait of a Gentleman is contemporaneous with Bol’s earliest signed and dated works, such as the Portrait of a Woman (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art); the Portrait of a Young Woman(Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art); and the Portrait of a middle-aged woman (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie).
From the lot notes:
Painted in 1542, this beautifully preserved Portrait of Barbara Schwarz is among the most significant surviving works by the German Renaissance artist, Christoph Amberger, the leading portraitist of the patrician classes in 16th-century Augsburg. One of the major masters of the International courtly portrait style prevailing at the time, Amberger, like his near contemporary Hans Holbein, belongs to the generation of artists following that of Albrecht Dürer.
The Portrait of Barbara Schwarz has as its pendant the portrait of her husband, Matthäus Schwarz [in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza] … Just months after his own likeness was finished, Matthäus commissioned Amberger to execute his wife’s portrait to commemorate her 35th birthday, of which the date, 21 August 1542, is inscribed at upper right.
An astrological horoscope is [also] included at upper right [corner of the painting], consisting of a diagram showing the position of the stars at the time of the sitter’s birth on 21 August 1501.
This painting is large and strange – the subject is the Protestant Reformation – as the catalogue notes: “Painted in 1536, the [Law and Grace] panel illustrates Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith with explanatory passages from a German translation of the bible written on papers affixed to its lower and upper edges.”
The message of Law and Grace is rooted in the theological principles of Martin Luther, as set forth in his Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (published in 1535, but based on lectures given as early as 1519; see J. Dillenberger, Images and Relics: Theological Perceptions and Visual Images in Sixteenth-Century Europe, Oxford, 1999, p. 96). In the tract, the German reformer asserted that Christian salvation is not dependent on human actions, i.e., “good works”, but rather on undeserved divine Grace freely given by God. Charity, penance, purchasing of indulgences or any mortal acts are ultimately ineffectual: mankind’s sole path to heaven is through faith and God’s grace. In Luther’s words: “By faith alone can we become righteous, for faith invests us with the sinlessness of Christ. The more fully we believe this, the fuller will be our joy.” (M. Luther, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, trans. T. Graebner, Grand Rapids, 1941, chapter 1, verse 13; see also B. Noble, Lucas Cranach the Elder: Art and Devotion of the German Reformation, p. 35 ff.).
From the lot notes:
Previously unpublished, this Pietà is a significant addition to Vasari’s corpus of paintings. Representing the moment following Christ’s Deposition, it shows the Virgin seated before the cross, mourning the loss of her Son. His slumped body is resting at her feet; at his side lies the crown of thorns, one of the instruments of his Passion. As related in the Gospels, the scene is shrouded in darkness with the sun and moon obscured. It is typical of the smaller-scale devotional paintings that Vasari made for friends and private patrons in and outside Florence during the earlier years of his career and in particular prior to his engagement as court artist to Duke Cosimo de’ Medici in Florence in 1555.