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Nicholas B.A. Nicholson
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Published: 7 March 2017

Devotional Discovery | A Late Sixteenth Century Northern European Retable

A highlight of Freeman’s upcoming May auction of British & European Furniture and Decorative Arts is a small retable (a domestic devotional altar screen) depicting scenes from the life of Mary intertwined with those of the life of Christ. With all the subtle and stylized hallmarks of the craftsmanship of leading Renaissance sculptor Jean Mone, it is a work of beauty destined to attract attention from collectors and scholars alike.

A Flemish giltwood and carved alabaster retable  This small retable, composed of alabaster reliefs set in a gilded wooden framing, is a Southern Netherlandish work from the circle of the leading Renaissance sculptor Jean Mone (c. 1485/90-c.1548/59) and can be dated ca. 1530-1540. In its programme scenes from the life of Mary are intertwined with those of the life of Christ to underscore the role of the Virgin in the work of salvation. In the lower register appear The Annunciation, Christ appearing to the Virgin Mary after the Resurrection, and The Visitation are to be seen. In the middle section, Christ among The Doctors, The Pentecost, and The Adoration of the Magi are depicted. In the upper part, The Adoration of the Shepherds is crowned by a semi-circular relief with the Coronation of the Virgin. In the socle, scenes of Christ’s passion are included (The Mocking of Christ, The Crucifixion, and The Carrying of the Cross). Spandrels above trefoil arched reliefs and friezes of the entablatures are covered with fine arabesques and grotesques also carved in alabaster.

Small altarpieces of this type were most suitable for private devotion: in domestic or funeral chapels, for instance. Although the combination of alabaster reliefs within a wooden frame is a typical feature of the renaissance house altarpieces produced in Malines and probably also Antwerp between ca. 1530 and 1575, this unique work distinguishes itself from the serial merchandise. Unlike these typical works, which usually combine 2-3 alabaster reliefs, it is composed of seven larger reliefs and several smaller ones. Other singular, however smaller works, that precede the period of serial production of the years ca. 1550-1575, are the domestic altarpiece (Mary and child) in the collection of Royal Museum of Art and History, the Last Supper-retable in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the retable with the Story of the prodigal son in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

It is not only the serial export-orientated production of the southern Netherlandish alabaster ateliers that constitutes a point of the reference for this interesting piece, however. Its overall composition resembles much more the one of the large Passion Altarpiece of Jean Mone (1536-1541) located in the Cathedral of SS Gudula and Michael in Brussels, which was initially destined for the chapel of the Royal Coudenberg Castle in Brussels . Its grid-like framework, composed with the reliefs organised in a two-storey structure with a three-storey central axis, echoing Spanish reredos, has been “copied” here in a small scale. The “Spanish connection” is not accidental, since Jean Mone spent four years in Spain as a member of the workshop of Bartolomé Ordoñez. Also, the subtle, stylised all’antica type of figures as well as the ornament of the altarpiece resemble the work of Jean Mone.

Curious what your fine antiques will bring at auction? Contact Freeman's for a complimentary auction estimate. Consignments of fine British and European furniture, silver, and decorative arts from the Medieval period to the late 19th century are sought through late March for our May 25 auction. For more information and for a complimentary appointment, please contact one of our specialists:

Nicholas B. A. Nicholson | 267.265.1798 | nnicholson@freemansauction.com
Tessa Laney | 215.940.9826 | tlaney@freemansauction.com

To be offered 05/25/17: A Flemish giltwood and carved alabaster retable, Malines, circa 1530-1540. Estimate $25,000-35,000.      

 

 

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