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.
The Persian poet Firdausi wrote the Shahnameh 1,000 years ago. This Book of Kings collects in 30,000 couplets 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 appreciated later that this text could be used as an apologia for royal power. Shah Isma'il, founder of the Safavid dynasty, commissioned ca 1522 CE the leading artists of his court to illustrate the Shahnameh. That illuminated manuscript was created from 1525 to 1540 in the early reign of his son and successor Shah Tahmasp. That fully completed project includes 258 miniatures skillfully composed with combinations of bright colors..
This magnificent manuscript has been dismantled in the 1970s. 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. The format of the folios is 47 x 32 cm. Panels of text are inserted in columns in the pictures.
1530s Folio 295 attributed to Mirza 'Ali
2022 SOLD for £ 8.1M by Sotheby's
This picture is attributed to Mirza 'Ali in the Royal atelier in Tabriz. Turning 20 years old in the early 1530s, Mirza 'Ali, the son of a leading artist of Shah Tahmasp's Shanameh, contributed to that project for about six illustrations. By his skills for details and psychology, he will be arguably the greatest illustrator of the Safavid dynasty.
The action features Rustam, dressed in a leopard skin, recovering the horse Rakhsh from the herd of his arch-enemy in a lush surrounding of trees inhabited with various species of birds including partridges. Another bearded character marks his astonishment by putting a finger in his mouth. Rakhsh means lightning.
The verso has an illuminated 20 line text in black in four columns in the same gold frame as the recto.
This folio was sold for £ 8.1M from a lower estimate of £ 4M by Sotheby's on October 26, 2022, lot 49. The image is shared by Wikimedia. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1525-1535 Folio 42
2011 SOLD for £ 7.4M by Sotheby's
The miniature is a 30 x 29 cm gouache heightened with gold, made in Tabriz between 1525 and 1535 CE. It is attributable to Aqa Mirak who was one of the leading masters of the project. The reverse has a text in four columns and two headings. The image overlaps the irregular gold margin on its right side.
It pictures 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.
1530 Folio 451
2022 SOLD for £ 4.8M by Christie's
It pictures Rustam kicking away the boulder pushed by Bahman. This story is not rare in Persian iconography. Closely following the text, the challenging hero is performing a Cossack dance while handling a cup of wine and roasting his onager.
This folio was sold for £ 4.8M from a lower estimate of £ 2.5M by Christie's on March 31, 2022, lot 41.
Christie's is delighted to announce that a rare court painting from the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp (c.1530) and The Adolphe von Rothschild silk and metal-thread Polonaise carpet will lead the Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds including Oriental Rugs and Carpets sale on 31 March. pic.twitter.com/kv7GtgQmxc— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) February 22, 2022
1525-1537 Lucretia by Cranach
2020 SOLD for $ 5.1M by Christie's
Cranach became an early supporter of the reform, started in 1517 in Wittemberg where he resided and worked while his patron the Saxon Elector was also a pro-Lutheran.
The political dimension of Lucretia's story as told by Livy became obvious at that time. Lucretia's rape by a royal Tarquinius prince had immediately triggered the fall of the Roman monarchy engineered by her acquaintance Brutus. The rise of Lutheranism could indeed be viewed as a similar upheaval.
Cranach made many paintings of Lucretia, most of them with the support of his workshop. More than forty are surviving, They are not mere replicas. The woman is always staged alone at the very moment when she enters her dagger in her breast. More or less in nudity, she is now the republican heroin, without the lavish attire of the pre-Lutheran versions.
An oil on panel transferred to board 61 x 41 cm was sold for $ 5.1M from a lower estimate of $ 1M by Christie's on October 15, 2020, lot 11. The desperate woman clasps her hands around the pommel while her fur-lined robe has dropped to her waist. That position of the hands of the pagan Lucretia is evoking a prayer by a Christian martyr virgin while the nudity reminds a Venus..
This painting is compromised by old surface losses and discolored reworks but the quality of the brushwork let consider that it is an autograph work by Cranach, typical of his best works between mid 1520s and mid 1530s. The terminus ante quem is 1537 when he lowered the wings of his signature's serpent.
1530 Phyllis and Aristotle by Cranach
2008 SOLD for $ 4.1M by Sotheby's
The philosopher was a major and respected learned figure and the tutor of Alexander. All man has his spiritual and physical vulnerability. The old man behaves as a fool crawling on hands and knees and ridden for some revenge by an insolent young woman. In the end Aristotle turns to misogyny and meditates on the wickedness of women.
Phyllis and Aristotle, oil on panel 55 x 35 cm painted in 1530, was sold for $ 4.1M from a lower estimate of $ 2.5M by Sotheby's on January 25, 2008, lot 78. The image is shared by Wikimedia. This painting appears to be the only surviving panel by Cranach of this subject. It had possibly been commissioned by a customer.
Both characters are elegantly dressed. The man looks at his tormenter whose direct gaze appeals the viewer of the picture. The humiliating position is moralizing and not erotic. The scene is staged in a landscape with a medieval castle on the horizon.
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.
Jiajing Palace Carpet
2021 SOLD for € 6.9M by Christie's
A pair of dragons symmetrically positioned around a well centered flaming pearl was an auspicious theme. A fragment 450 x 315 cm that preserved bright colors was sold for $ 670K by Christie's on December 11, 2014, lot 8.
A Ming carpet 510 x 450 cm still with its complete borders and wool thickness was sold for € 6.9M from a lower estimate of € 3.5M by Christie's on November 23, 2014, lot 224. It had probably be placed beneath the throne on a platform. It is well preserved excepted that the typical bright red background of the Ming style has faded into yellow. Please watch the video prepared by the auction house.
The drawing of the pair of imperial dragons and of clouds, waves and mountains are highly stylized, providing a more dynamic effect than in Wanli time. Such a decoration around the imperial seat highlighted the Son of Heaven as the center of the world. By comparison with dragons featured in porcelains, this carpet could be dated from the Jiajing period.
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.