Sotheby’s December 2011 Sale of European Sculpture and Works of Art Spans 800 Years

Sotheby’s auction of European Sculpture and Works of Art: Medieval to Modern on Tuesday, 6 December 2011 will showcase 800 extraordinary years of artworks that form a continuous history from the twelfth century through to the mid-twentieth century. The auction comprises medieval, Old Master, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century sculpture and works of art.

The department is returning to presenting Sculpture as it did from 2000 to 2005 in an uninterrupted tradition from around the tenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. Sotheby’s is unique in the auction world in offering such a rich and coherent view of sculpture as a stand-alone collecting category. Erik Bijzet has been appointed Head of Auction Sales, European Sculpture and Works of Art, and Alexander Kader, Head of Department, is to focus on private treaty sales and valuations. The department has four specialists who bring an unrivalled breadth of knowledge and experience to the selection of masterpieces for private collectors and museum curators. These sales will take place biannually during the busy summer and winter ‘Old Master Week’ in July and December, when the spotlight falls on London as the centre of the art world for collectors of important paintings, drawings and furniture.

Sotheby’s sale is to present an exciting rediscovery, an Italian Romanesque stone relief of The Presentation in the Temple that formed part of a lost doorway from the Cathedral of San Pietro in Bologna (illustrated left). The relief comes to the market from a private collection and was purchased in 1957 from the Dr Jacob Hirsh sale held in Lucerne, where it was catalogued as having come from the Church of San Stefano in Bologna. In 1999 six stone panels were discovered during work on the campanile of San Pietro Cathedral and the most significant of these depicts two scenes from the Life of Christ. The present relief compares exactly in both the stylistic treatment of the figures, architecture and in the palaeography.
Originating in the workshop of Pietro di Alberico, it can be dated to around 1159. The research undertaken and published in 2008 by Michele Vescovi has provided fresh insight into the relief’s origins. The church was remodelled during the sixteenth-century, a catalyst for the different fortunes of the reliefs. The Presentation in the Temple was housed in the old hospital in Bologna, before being sold by the Bargello authorities for the relief of the hospital in 1925 and passing through a number of collections during the twentieth century. It is estimated at £80,000-120,000.

A partially polychromed limewood figure of St John the Baptist, restituted to the heirs of Jacob and Rosa Oppenheimer this year, is being offered with an estimate of £100,000-150,000 (illustrated left). Made by the Master of the Harburger Altar, Bayerisch-Schwaben, circa 1515, the saint is represented here with a virtuosity and vigour that characterises only the very best limewood sculpture of Germany. Given its quality, and because it is almost life-size, the figure must have occupied a dominant position on a major early sixteenth-century altarpiece. The interplay of different textures employed throughout the statue demonstrates an outstanding feat of carving. One of the most important wood sculptures to come on the market in a long time, the present work is comparable to a group of carvings that possibly formed a large altarpiece for the church at Schloss Harburg, a castle belonging to the House of Oettingen-Wallerstein. The statue of St. Michael that remains there and a Virgin and Child now kept in a Baroque church on the land of the owners of the Schloss certainly display the same crispness and interchange of the winding folds and crumples of the drapery. The large animal head that rests on the base can be identified as a camel’s head and is part of an iconographic tradition based on Matthew 3:14, where the saint is described as having worn camel skin.

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