The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum offers half a dozen Italian-style sculptures and paintings from the 13th to 16th centuries -among them, a beautiful portrait of Jesus and the Virgin by Barnabas of Modena- that will form part of the most coveted lots of a auction on December 8 at Christie’s in London dedicated to “Old Masters”.
The life and history of the Virgin Mary aroused interest in works of art from the Middle Ages and, despite having no Biblical source, the artists evoked moments from their childhood, such as the wooden sculpture “The Education of the Virgin ” where Mary is seen learning to read, or they reproduced scenes of her ascent to heaven, as in “The Coronation of the Virgin”.
“In the 12th and 13th centuries, there was this movement where people wanted to feel that they knew more about the Virgin and then there was this creation of different scenes that became iconic in the lifestyle of the Virgin,” Donald Johnston told EFE Agency. , International Sculpture Specialist at Christie’s.
The sculptural set of his coronation, valued between 120,000 and 180,000 pounds (140,000-210,000 euros) is by an anonymous artist and originally comes from the area of Austria or the Balkans, in the 1520s and 1530s.
On each side of the Virgin, the figures of Christ and God the Father stand tall, in charge of crowning her as “Queen of Heaven”, but the crown has long since disappeared and only empty hands are displayed on top of the crown of Mary.
In addition, according to Johnston, the set, 143 centimeters high , would have also had a dove, representing the Holy Spirit and thus completing the Trinity.
“By the elongation of all the figures we can conclude that it was meant to be seen from a higher position than what we have been able to put here. The sculptor has very cleverly taken into account the point of view of the viewer and has elongated the figures so that when you see it from below, it actually looks more normal ”, he adds.Also noteworthy is the portrait of Jesus and the Virgin Mary with a golden background by Barnabas of Modena, from the 14th century, valued between 400,000 and 600,000 pounds (466,000-700,000 euros) and two panels by Maestro della Cappella Dotto – one of the most famous artists in Veneto. in the 13th century – which would have belonged to a large altarpiece, each valued at 250,000-350,000 pounds (291,000-408,000 euros).
According to the director of the auction, Clementine Sinclair, the gold background was an element that was used frequently between the 13th and 14th centuries , but it was abandoned from the 15th century, when the Renaissance arose.
“As magical and ethereal as the effect, in the 15th century artists were moving towards a greater sense of naturalism and realism in their paintings,” Sinclair relates. “In the Renaissance artists are trying to create perspective and a feeling of stepping back into space , being able to almost step into a painting, while the gold background stands out and has the opposite effect,” she explains.
The “Old Masters” auction will open Christie’s Classic Week on December 8 , full of on-site and online auctions until December 15, with a portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria painted by Anthony van Dick as the star dish , which awaits reach 4 million pounds (4.6 million euros).
“The painting hung in the hall of Warwick Castle for over 200 years, and interestingly, during that time it was enlarged to a large format,” says Sinclair.“That was so it could be hung alongside other full-length portraits the family already owned. It was not until 2016 that the portrait was reduced to its original format, the retouching that had been applied was removed and the true brilliance and original brushwork of Van Dyck came to light, ”says the auction director.
The highest bidder will also be awarded the painting “Reading Party” by French Jean-François de Troy, from the 18th century, which is expected to fetch 3 million pounds (3.5 million euros) or a recently discovered portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam that painted Holbein the Younger, valued at 1.5 million pounds (1.75 million euros).