1520-1539 The Princeps Edition of the Talmud
2015 SOLD for $ 9.3M including premium
The invention of printing was not immediately applied to Hebrew types. In Italy, some Christian illuminators were able to continue their business during the last decades of the fifteenth century by adapting their expertise to the copy of Hebrew books.
The first books printed in Hebrew also appeared in Italy. A Mishneh Torah printed in Bologna in 1482 was sold for € 2.8 million including premium by Christie's on April 30, 2014. The texts are cleverly arranged in blocks for an easy comparison within the page between the basic text and its commentaries. There is nothing similar in the Christian culture as far as I know.
Daniel Bomberg, a Christian printer in Venice, obtained in 1515 the permission to print in Hebrew. His princeps editions of the Talmud are a major project carried out in three phases : the Babylonian Talmud from 1520 to 1523, the Talmud of Jerusalem in 1522 and 1523 and additional tractates from 1525 to 1539 that went to complete his Babylonian Talmud.
The result is an achievement. The composition continues the tradition of confrontational blocks with such skill that they will serve for centuries as a prototype for further printed editions of the Talmud. The rabbinical sources are carefully selected and considered as indisputable. The book is printed on a beautiful heavy paper.
Westminster Abbey once owned the finest surviving copy of the Babylonian Talmud of Bomberg, complete of its 3472 leaves of great freshness, in nine volumes 39 x 27 cm in a period binding. When he was assembling his Valmadonna Trust Library, the collector Jack Lunzer managed to acquire this set by providing in exchange a valuable old charter of the abbey.
The Bomberg Talmud of the Valmadonna Trust Library is estimated $ 5M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on December 22, lot 12.
The Valmadonna collection was exhibited at Sotheby's in February 2009. The video below, which is an introduction to the 11000 pieces displayed in this exhibition, demonstrates convincingly why the Bomberg Talmud is the most important jewel in this stunning library.
1525-1530 The Funerary Angels of Fugger the Rich
2019 SOLD for € 2.35M including premium
With one of his brothers and also in the name of another brother recently deceased, Jakob the Rich has built in Augsburg from 1509 to 1512 a chapel in the style of Italian funerary architecture, which is an innovation for that time in Germany. For the decoration of this grandiose monument, he calls on the best German artists : Dürer, Burgkmaier, Breu, Hans Daucher. He dies in 1525.
The furnishing of this chapel is scattered between 1817 and 1821 under a pretext of modernization. It included an alignment of beige limestone putti about 30 cm high carved by Daucher, grouped in pairs on a marble balustrade. The total number of original putti is not identified.
Each statuette shows a baby-faced angel leaning on a sphere that symbolizes the vanity of earthly occupations. They are different one another in terms of facial expression, hairstyle, leg position, allegorical meaning.
In 1921 the Fugger family decides to restore the chapel. An active search leads to five putti distributed in several neighboring gardens. They are now kept at the Maximilian Museum in Augsburg.
Two other putti have just been found in the château de Beaurepaire at Martinvast near Cherbourg, where their presence had never been identified. The provenance is however understandable : the castle was bought in 1867 by the banker Arthur de Schickler for his project of an extravagant neo-Gothic residence with a Moorish park.
The Martinvast putti do not form a pair together but separately with two specimens of the Maximilian Museum. Having escaped in their attic the degradations of an outdoor storage, they keep intact the sharpness of the carving by the master. They remain together as lot 35 for sale by Sotheby's in Paris on May 16. The catalog proposes a date around 1525-1530.
#AuctionUpdate Les magnifiques putti, chefs-d’œuvre de la Renaissance allemande atteignent 2.3 millions €. Oeuvres de Hans Daucher, vers 1525-1530, ils ornaient autrefois la chapelle de la prestigieuse famille Fugger à Augsbourg #SothebysDecArts pic.twitter.com/V3l2mFQro2— Sotheby's France (@SothebysFr) May 16, 2019
1525-1535 The King disguised as a Dragon
2011 SOLD 7.4 M£ including premium
The Persian poet Firdausi wrote the Shahnameh 1000 years ago. This Book of Kings collects the epic and heroic stories of his country since the creation of the world until the advent of Islam.
He was misunderstood in his lifetime, like all geniuses, but the Persian kings realized later that this text could be used as an apologia for royal power. Ismail, founder of the Safavid dynasty, encouraged artists to illustrate the Shahnameh, but the great work was an illuminated manuscript created in the early reign of his son and successor Tahmasp.
This highly important manuscript has been dismantled. One can, or even have to, regret it but the corollary is that each folio coming on the market is considered as a work of art in its own right.
On April 6 in London, Sotheby's sells a gouache heightened with gold, 47 x 32 cm. Made in Tabriz between 1525 and 1535 of our calendar, it is attributable to Aqa Mirak who was one of the best artists of this collection. It is estimated £ 2M.
It shows the king Faridun who disguises himself as a fierce dragon to test the courage and loyalty of his three sons. He could rejoice in the result and particularly appreciate the haughty answer made by the youngest: Go your way, dragon, we are the sons of the powerful Faridun.
This work will soon be exhibited in Doha. On this occasion, it is illustrated in the upper left of the article shared by The Peninsula Qatar.
POST SALE COMMENT
Sotheby's had announced this lot for a very long time and knew its value, of course.
The result, £ 7.4 million including premium, is very high, but the above discussion indicated the trend: each sheet of Shahnameh of Tahmasp is a work of art in its own right.
I have no doubt that this price will incite other sheets to come in future sales.
1530 Early Preaching
2018 SOLD for $ 3.4M including premium
He then settled in Middelburg and spread Mannerist tastes in Holland and Flanders. His mythological nudes are daring for the time. He paints many portraits.
On December 9, 2015, Sotheby's sold for £ 4.6M including premium a Virgin and Child painted around 1520 on 39 x 27 cm panel.
Mary is a young woman in an attitude of quiet adoration. All the Mannerism is in the attitude of the naked child ready to escape from the hands of his mother for convincing the world. The child's hand catching the chin of his mother creates an emotional link although he does not look at her.
Later the child becomes exuberant. He is displayed at the same early age but his attitude has become a preaching with a speaking mouth and a raised arm. His skills exceeding his apparent age are confirmed by the aging of his musculature and hair. The thoughtful mother is no longer smiling.
This oil on panel 45 x 34 cm painted around 1530 was sold for CHF 2.37M including premium by Koller on March 28, 2014. It had been discussed in this column before the sale. It is estimated $ 3M for sale by Christie's in New York on April 19, lot 48.
1532 Game of Life in Antwerp
2019 SOLD for $ 10M including premium
Jan Sanders van Hemessen was received in 1524 at the Guild of Saint Luke of Antwerp where he joined Quentin Massys. A friend of Erasmus, Massys had introduced the grotesque into his religious and secular scenes. Much ahead of its time, the Lender and his wife, painted in 1511 by Massys, shows two characters captured in a moment of their professional activity.
Van Hemessen's creativity is very innovative. He is the first to practice what was later called the Mannerist inversion, which consisted of relegating the religious scene to the background for devoting the foreground to a scene of daily life with the clothes of his time.
Often the religious action disappears, replaced by an accumulation of symbols that are no longer comprehensible to the observer of today but allows all fantasies, such as to apply to an angel the very colorful wings of a butterfly. By his frequent use of an instant narrative, van Hemessen is the founder of the Flemish genre painting and anticipates Bruegel's proverbs.
On May 1 in New York, Christie's sells a 111 x 128 cm oil on panel painted by van Hemessen in 1532, lot 7 estimated $ 4M.
This life-size half-length double portrait shows a man and a woman in a cozy interior. Richly dressed, they certainly belong to the Antwerp bourgeoisie. They are seated at a table centered by the board of a game which is a precursor to the backgammon.
These two characters discuss an element of the on-going game. The forefinger of the woman is pointing to two dice that have just revealed their number. They look at each other with a loving smile. Several elements, including the rings on the fingers and a quince freshly cut for sharing, evoke their marriage. Some other symbols are religious.
Please watch the video prepared by Christie's in which this painting is discussed by its consignor the minimalist artist Frank Stella.
1532 The Elector of the Reformation
2018 SOLD for $ 7.7M including premium
The first of his three Saxon patrons, Friedrich the Wise, is famous for his tolerance concerning Luther. Cranach is enthusiastic about the Reformation and then becomes a close friend of Luther.
The family events of the Saxon court are celebrated with half-length portraits in resplendent attire. In 1525 Friedrich is succeeded by his brother Johann who intensifies his pro-Lutheran policy. In the following year he manages the engagement of his son and heir Johann-Friedrich with Sibylle of Cleves. The wedding takes place in 1527. Cranach's portrait of the then 15-year-old princess was sold for $ 7.7M including premium by Christie's on April 15, 2008.
Johann-Friedrich succeeds Johann in 1532 and confirms his commitment to the Reformation. He commissions Cranach and his workshop for a large quantity of posthumous portraits of his two predecessors to serve as diplomatic gifts.
On April 19 in New York, Christie's sells a portrait of Johann-Friedrich, oil on panel 63 x 40 cm, lot 7 estimated $ 1M. The painting is neither dated nor signed and an underdrawing reveals that some details of the face were modified for perfecting the likeness or the dignity. It is probably a modello painted by the master after the accession to power of the new Elector to prepare the realization of copies by the workshop.
This artwork disappeared during the Nazi persecutions. It has just resurfaced and was restituted to the spoiled family with the support of Christie's.
Please watch the video shared by auction house (full video below the video tweet, including a portrait of Alessandro Farnese by another artist). POST SALE COMMENT : the Farnese portrait was sold for $ 2.6M including premium.
1532 The Sixteen Boys of the Jiajing Emperor
2007 SOLD for HK$ 30.6M including premium by Christie's
The Zhengde emperor of the Ming died in 1521 CE in scandalous circumstances, before reaching 30 years old, with no surviving child. His cousin who succeeded him was obviously not ready. His reign name will be Jiajing meaning 'admirable tranquility'. He will never be interested in the exercise of power.
During the 11th year of his reign, 1532 CE, the Jiajing emperor is worried. At 25, he still has no descendants. His first empress had died of his brutality while she was pregnant. He abandons the second because she is pushed by a clan. He organizes a Taoist ritual in the imperial garden to encourage the birth of imperial boys. It is not clear what happened in this ceremony but a first prince was born to a concubine in the following year.
The prince dies at the age of six weeks. The emperor finally finds the solution. Over a period of five years beginning in the 15th year of the reign, nine concubines give him seven sons and four daughters.
As for porcelain, the novelty of this period is the covered jar of large size, offering an increased surface for the illustration.
A blue and white jar of the largest model, 47 cm high including its original cover, was sold for HK $ 30.6M including premium by Christie's in Hong Kong on November 27, 2007. It is back in the same auction house on November 27, 2019, lot 3007. It was part of a pair of identical jars that was separated in 1985.
Its iconographic theme of the hundred boys is traditional. It comes from the legend of an emperor of the Zhou who, unable to have his hundredth son, adopted an orphan.
In a continuity throughout the circumference, sixteen boys play various games in a garden. They are all alike, with shaved heads. One group represents education, with the oldest child playing the schoolmaster while the smallest one does not yet walk but is already trying to catch the book.
All these occupations form several rebuses, according to the traditional game of homophonies. Their meaning is in line with wishes for the imminent birth of one or more boys along with longevity auspices.
A smaller jar showing exactly the same plays passed at Bonhams on November 10, 2011. A 26 cm high jar with another composition of plays was sold for HK $ 11.8M including premium by Christie's on May 27, 2009. These two examples do not have a lid.
1535 The Court Fool of Anne Jagiellon
2017 SOLD for £ 2.17M including premium by Sotheby's
narrated in 2020
This portrait is part of the interest in madness and deformities that follows the Praise of folly by Erasmus. The wrinkled face is ordinary, maybe Lappish or Gypsy. The simplified design of the gown in the same colors as the conical clown hat and the imitation of a gold brocade on the collar reveal that she is an actress. She carries a paper of which she is certainly the messenger. The amused smile suggests that she knows the content.
Rings hang in groups on the cord necklace, probably by reference to a magic trick. Only one other illustration from the same period includes a similar piece of jewelry. This latter artwork identifies the model as Elisabet Stulta (Foolish Elisabeth).
The portrait of Elisabet is a copy that was already in the collection of Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol, son of Emperor Ferdinand of Habsburg and Anne Jagiellon. The painting sold by Sotheby's had some revisions in the drawing, revealed by infrared inspection. It is an original portrait, perhaps of the same woman, probably taken from life.
Fools, jugglers and buffoons had an important role at court but not enough for it to be documented, with some notable exceptions such as Triboulet at the same period in France. Elisabet was probably a female jester to Anne Jagiellon who was queen consort of Bohemia and Hungary from 1526 and also of Germany from 1531.
From its Erasmian theme, an attribution to Massys or to Cranach the Elder tempted experts in the 19th century, but the ill-proportioned hands were not painted by a top master. The current hypothesis, far from being demonstrated, is that it is a work by Jan Sanders van Hemessen around 1525 in his training period, during the lifetime of Massys. Massys and van Hemessen were Flemish : we should rather look for a painter in Prague or Vienna around 1535. Jakob Seisenegger has been suggested as the original artist of the Elisabet Stulta.
1535 Madonnas with a Long Neck by Parmigianino
2009 SOLD 780 K€ including premium
This artist was named Francesco Mazzola. According to a common custom in his time, he was called according to the name of his hometown, Parma. He is therefore especially known as il Parmigianino.
Painter, fresco maker, draftsman, etcher, he practiced all the graphic techniques of his time mostly to represent religious subjects. He was among the first to distort the body, starting with his own: his self portrait in a convex mirror, a work of his youth (he was 20 years old, 1523-1524), attests to his interest in the study of forms.
His most frequent subject was the Virgin and Child, to which he gave a rather disturbing look. The Madonna is characterized by a long and fragile neck and it is hard to imagine why he did it so. The child, although naked in the arms of his mother, is no longer a baby. Could we see in Parmigianino a precursor of the great extensions of Greco? Certainly not, as some examples of his art show a horizontal elongation of the child that contradicts the vertical extension of the mother.
No matter that these works are no longer in the fashion of our time, they had their role in art history.
The Madonna with the long neck that is at the Uffizi Museum in Florence is one of his largest paintings (2.16 x 1.32 m), dated 1535. On March 25, Sotheby's sells in Paris a preparatory drawing for this painting. An estimated 500 K €.
1537 Shame and Pain onto the Honey Thief
2013 SOLD 2.2 M£ including premium
Cranach the Elder reuses this fable from 1527 with more subtlety. He is the master of the use of the female nude in moralizing allegories. Not far from displeasing his patron Luther, his sensual nudes leave some doubt between erotic expression and resistance to temptation. The quiet stag often in the background invites to the latter religious interpretation.
The three oils on panel that I discuss below have the same size, 51 x 35 cm, assessing that this theme was during more than ten years one of the most regular productions from this artist.
The earliest is dated 1532. It was sold for 16 MF including premium (€ 2.4M) by Rouillac on June 10, 2001. The attitudes are mannerist, although the bees have already begun to attack. Venus is not interested in the child. The epigram, however, leaves no doubt about the interpretation.
Dated 1537, the painting for sale by Bonhams in London on December 4, is more dramatic. It is estimated £ 1.5 M. Cupid is anguished by a dozen bees stinging his naked body and asks for help. Venus reaches out over the child's head but looks in another direction, as if to convince the viewer that the scoundrel is receiving what he deserved.
In 1538, Venus looks at Cupid. Her attitude is didactic, and the child tries to understand. Curiously, this ultimate stage of the story has no inscription. It was sold for 17.2 MF before fees (€ 2.6 M) by Rieunier et Bailly-Pommery on December 4, 2000.
POST SALE COMMENT
Good result for Venus and the young thief : £ 2.2M including premium.
I invite you to play the video shared by Bonhams :