• Important Early European Furni auction at Christies

    Sale 7764

    Important Early European Furniture, Sculpture & Tapestries

    5 November 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 289



    Price Realised  

    Possibly depicting Bohemond offering the Emperor of Byzantium the keys emblematic of the territories of Sardinia and Corsica; beneath an arched and scalloped crest and further relief of three figures within arches and framed by an egg-and-dart moulded cornice and flanked by pilasters and further supported by dragon heads and claws; on a frieze of putti framed by drapery swags, losses, repairs and associated elements
    32 in. (81.5 cm.) x 28 in. (72.5 cm.) relief without framing elements

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    Renaissance architecture in the Castilian states is perhaps best represented in the cities of Salamanca, Leon and Burgos, the real heart of the Castilian states, as well as Toledo, Granada and Seville. The influx of money from their American conquests helped propel the architecture of the 16th century towards a new richness. Charles V also wished to emphasise Spain's ties to Europe through a more Italian- influenced architectural program, and this Spanish love of a densely ornamented decorative style can be seen in the Hearst facade. Again, like the present facade, the arrangement, typically, was rhythmical, grouping two elements alternating with a single element. This can be seen on the facade of the University of Alcal de Henares, built between 1543 and 1583 and certainly contemporary with at least part of the Hearst facade. The use of semi-circular elements, arches, niched shells and further richly detailed mouldings and carvings are typical of this architectural school.

    As has been noted in the Springfield Art Museums' archives (from the records of Frederick B. Robinson, Director), the central plaque possibly depicts the handing over of the keys which are thought to represent the territories of Sardinia and Corsica, given to the Emperor of Byzantium in Constantinople in exchange for reinforcements for the Frankish armies in their crusade to win the Holy Land. The present lot was formerly part of a larger architectural scheme owned by the Springfield Art Museums, and old photographs of their installation of the alabasters include a lower register with niches housing Saints Sebastian, Barbara, Mary Magdalene and Matthew. Each of these saints can be related symbolically to sickness and its cure, and it may be that the facade was originally for the interior courtyard of a hospice or hospital.

    Like many of William Randolph Hearst's (1863-1951) acquisitions, the alabaster facade sold by the Springfield Art Museums was probably acquired on one of his legendary buying trips throughout the Continent. The American newspaper and magazine magnate, who had begun collecting art seriously in the first decade of the twentieth century, continued to buy on a staggering scale throughout the 1920s and 1930s. And, as lots 289-290 illustrate, it was not only early works of art and furniture, but architectural elements and indeed entire buildings, both religious and secular, that were deconstructed, stone by stone, labelled and shipped to his fabled castle which was rising on the coast of California. At San Simeon, his architect, Julia Morgan, then incorporated these disparate elements into the fantastic complex, which was part stage set and part personal monument, but still a serious collection of art and architecture, and created a house unlike any other in North America. However, in the late 1930s and 1940s, after the onset of severe financial problems, many objects from Hearst's collections were sold both at a series of auctions and privately through dealers and even department stores.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.
    From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot.


    With Bacri Freres, Paris, 1928.
    William Randolph Hearst.
    Mrs. George Hearst.
    Mrs. Madelyn Fiorita Jones (formerly Mrs. Cornelius Cole II), Los Angeles.
    With Loewi-Robertson, Inc., Los Angeles, 1971.
    Springfield Art Museums, sold Christie's New York, 28 September 2006, lot 219.