Guilt free: 10 Old Master works at accessible price points
Offering a collection of exciting works from established and lesser known artists, the Old Masters: No Reserves sale shines light on a trove of masterworks from the Byzantine through the Baroque period and beyond
This fluently rendered study of a bearded man has thus far defied definitive attribution. While it was once credited to Sir Peter Paul Rubens, more recent studies have concluded that it is more likely by a Bolognese artist.
Some of the manuscript leaf beneath the paint was intentionally left visible by the artist. Seen through the beard, and easily discernible around the outside of the painting, is a list of pigments and prices written in Italian. The painter was likely part of the orbit of Annibale Carracci, who is known to have executed studies on ledger paper similar to this one. The reuse of a discarded sheet of paper as the support for this study allows the viewer a rare glimpse into the working life of the artist.
These two panels are gilt-resin renderings cast after the Adam and Eve and Moses panels on the Gates of Paradise, at the Florence Baptistery. The originals were Commissioned by the Arte di Calimala (The Cloth Merchants’ Guild) in 1425. The 11th century minor basilica is one of the oldest buildings in Florence, where the poet Dante Alighieri as well as the Medici family were baptized.
The panels themselves possess an incredible sense of perspective and depth, a then-new concept which their original sculptor, Lorenzo Ghiberti, studied for this specific purpose. The process of creating the panels for these doors lasted 27 years, which Ghiberti and his workshop dedicated to depicting 10 scenes from the Old Testament. Lasting through myriad catastrophes like floods and plagues, they were described by the Renaissance polymath Giorgio Vasari as being ‘undeniably perfect in every way,’ saying that ‘they must rank as the finest masterpiece ever created.’ These replicas, created 5 centuries after the originals were cast, are the closest one can come to owning a panel from the doors themselves.
Though Theodoor van Loon was born in the North, he spent much time training in Italy during the early years of the 17th century. A follower of Caravaggio, his work was often commissioned by nobility throughout Europe. These influences can be seen clearly in his work, through both his subject matter and his technique.
The Holy Family with Saint Anne, other Saints and Angels is one of few surviving small-scale oil sketches by van Loon, another of which can be found in the Musée du Louvre, in Paris. His depiction of the holy family with Saint Anne shows his Italian training through light and perspective, and though we know that there are other saints depicted in this work, it remains a mystery which, other than Saint Anne, they are.
This 16th century boss was designed to be worn as jewellery. Its companion pieces in the Muzeo Nazionale del Bargello would also have been worn as the decorative covering of a clasp. Created using the ancient metalworking process of cloisonné, it was created by first outlining the design with bronze, whose cells (cloisons) were then filled in with coloured enamel and fired.
The technique was invented in the Near East in the 15th century, but quickly spread through merchants along the Silk Road. It further developed and highly refined by 16th century European artisans who, by the time of this masterfully worked English boss, were experts in the art form.
Gerrit van Vucht’s 17th century still life is an excellent entry point into Dutch cabinet painting, a term used to describe intimately scaled works that were typically displayed in a small, private rooms. This vanitas still life — wherein the skull, books and candle being studied are portrayed at a much less than life scale — is typical of the style often associated with the Dutch Golden Age of painting.
Executed in van Vucht’s famously muted and monochromatic style, and mounted within a 17th century Dutch-style frame, it has previously been exhibited at the Milwaukee Art Museum. The artist's small monogram reading ‘GV’ can be found in the centre of the piece, on the edge of the table.
In his play Richard III, William Shakespeare described the technology of the tabula scalata:
Divides one thing entire to many objects,
Like perspectives, which rightly gazed upon,
Show nothing but confusion—eyed awry,
This is the experience one feels when viewing this Christ and the Madonna from the 17th century. Created by the process of making two oil paintings on paper, which were then sliced into thin strips and pasted on the shaped panel, this composition can only be viewed when set to rest at an angle. Its subjects are inspired by composition of the Bolognese artist Guido Reni, whose designs were well-known.
Disorienting and technologically advanced, the optical illusion employed here embodies the interest that artists toward the end of the Renaissance had in combining their studies of art and science into a single object. Other examples of the tabula scalata, including a double portrait of Charles III of Lorraine and his daughter Christine, can be found in the Galileo Museum, in Florence.
Ginevra Cantofoli was a student of Giovanni Andrea Sirani, who famously trained his three daughters in the art of painting. One of them, Elisabetta Sirani, went on to take over her father’s workshop, turning it into a school for women painters in Bologna. It is this lineage that Cantofoli’s work belongs to: she was part of the Bolognese school in the 17th century, but she was also undoubtedly one of the most skilled female painters of her time.
This Sybil is unique in that it has remained unlined, meaning that its reverse remains bare, revealing the slight shadow of the oil paint on the other side. Most often found in Bologna throughout its churches and museums, her work usually deals with religious motifs, so this painting of a relatively agnostic theme such as a female prophetess is an exceptional rarity.
This vanitas still life is believed to have been made by a follower of the Dutch Golden Age artist Pieter Claesz, painted around 1630. The work it was based on, by Claesz, was long thought to be by Rembrandt — an artist who is not known for still lifes — and was even sold in 1937 as such.
Exhibited as part of the Naturalism and Methaphor: The Baroque Still Life exhibition at the University Art Museum in Milwaukee, the present work portrays a typical Baroque vanitas, with bones and academic objects working harmoniously as contemplative objects in this composition.
Jan Wijnants is mostly known for his work in Italianate landscapes and topographical paintings. His style had a profound impact on a generation of landscape artists after him, such as Nicolaes de Vree and Adriaen van de Velde. These students in turn would continue to push Dutch landscape painting forward, eventually influencing the work of the English landscape artist Thomas Gainsborough.
The top lot of this sale, his Italianate wooded landscape with river, from 1656, is exemplary of his style. This rendering of a countryside scene brings its viewer to the splendour of natural beauty as it appeared in the 17th century. In addition to this, it is housed in a gilt frame whose floral motifs accentuate the subject of the painting.
Boxwood was the preferred medium for the intricate carvings like this comb that were produced in the Low Countries during the Renaissance. Its fine grain and high density allowed the sculptor to achieve a near-microscopic level of detail.
This comb demonstrates that even though an object possessed utility value, its sculptor was highly trained in his art form. It bears the inscription ‘A MA TRES DOUCE AMIE POUR BIEN JE LE DONE,’ (‘To my very sweet friend, to be well I give you this.’) suggesting that it was given as a gift. A comb showing part of the same inscription can be found at the Musée National du Moyen-Âge -Musée de Cluny, Paris