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    Sale 7631

    Important European Furniture & Sculpture

    4 December 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 50

    A RECTANGULAR GILT-BRONZE PLAQUE OF THE HEAD OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST

    FRENCH, 16TH OR 17TH CENTURY

    Price Realised  

    A RECTANGULAR GILT-BRONZE PLAQUE OF THE HEAD OF ST JOHN THE BAPTIST
    FRENCH, 16TH OR 17TH CENTURY
    The bearded head with a cut above the proper right eyebrow, wearing a soft cap and with a halo; minor surface dirt
    9 5/8 x 11 5/8 in. (24.5 x 29.5 cm.)


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    The present beautifully finished relief of the head of a male saint has previously been considered to be of Spanish origin, but recent research indicates that it is more likely to have been produced in France. The most significant indication of this is the fact that the cut above the proper right eyebrow is a very specific piece of iconography which appears to have originated in Amiens in the 14th century.

    Amiens cathedral claims to house the head of John the Baptist, which tradition says was brought to them by Wallon de Sarton when he returned from the Fourth Crusade at the beginning of the 13th century. Pilgrims were shown a cut on the forehead of the skull, and it was explained that Herodias, the mother of Salome, slashed the skull when it was brought to her on a platter. This iconography was spread by the pilgrims but seems to have remained a largely French phenomenon. In his book on Christian saints and iconography, Louis Réau (loc. cit.) cites a low relief in Lyon cathedral of the 14th century and a fresco at Saint-Denis d'Anjou of the 16th century which both portray St John with the cut to his forehead. In addition, a painted Limoges enamel roundel of the mid 16th century in the Louvre (Baratte, loc. cit.) portrays the head of the Baptist, identified by an inscription around the outside edge, which is strikingly similar to the depiction of the present relief. Although the enamel does not include the unusual element of the cap, other features such as the parted lips, the long bony nose and the protuberant eyes which are open by just a slit, are close enough to suggest that the two artists may have been looking at the same original source.

    A technical analysis of the relief confirms the presence of numerous trace elements in the alloy which are consistent with a date of production in the 16th or 17th century. The relief has almost certainly been cast using the lost wax process. Sprues would have run from the lower edge of the relief and been used to secure it while the mercury gilding was being applied. The sprues were then filed off, leaving only one edge of the relief with no evidence of the gilding, which clearly remains where it has spilled over the other three sides.

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    From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot.


    Literature

    COMPARATIVE LITERATURE:
    L. Réau, Répertoires des saints; noms, patronage, attributs, Paris, III, pt. 3, pp. 457-458.
    S. Baratte, Les Émaux peints de Limoges, Paris, 2000, no. OA 3971, p. 74.