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Antwerp School, circa 1510-1520
Property from the collection of the late Mr Peter Lehmann-Bärenklau (Lots 23, 50, 72, 140)
Antwerp School, circa 1510-1520

The Ascension of Christ; and Elijah Fed by the Angel in the Desert

Antwerp School, circa 1510-1520
The Ascension of Christ; and Elijah Fed by the Angel in the Desert
oil on panel
127.6 x 54.7; and 125.6 x 54.8 cm.
a set of two (2)
Collection Alexander Fleischner; His sale, Dorotheum, Vienna, 12 December 1927, lot 50b-50d, figs. XIV-XVI, as Netherlandish Master, c. 1520, offered together with Abraham and Melchisedek and Christ before Pilate (presumably unsold).
Collection Alexander Fleischner; His sale, Dorotheum, Vienna, 13 May 1929, lot 34b-34d, figs. 14 and 16, as Master of the Antwerp Crucifixion (Bles group), offered together with Abraham and Melchisedek and Christ before Pilate, and with a note that lots 34b and 34d are best preserved.
Anonymous sale; Dorotheum, Vienna, 26 March 1931, lot 1, ill, as Master of the Antwerp Crucifixion.
Anonymous sale; Lepke, Berlin, 10-11 May 1932, lots 396-397, fig. 17, as Master of the Antwerp Crucifixion.
M. J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, XI, 1974, p. 27, no. 57, as Workshop of the Master of the Antwerp Crucifixion and as stemming from an altar piece with double shutters, plates 61, (erounously) illustrated as Master of the Antwerp Adoration.
G. Hoffmann, Spätgotik am Niederrhein: Rheinische und Flämische Flügelatäre im Licht neuer Forschung, Cologne, 1998, p. 274, footnote 301.
P. van den Brink, M.P.J. Martens, Extravangant! Een kwarteeuw Antwerpse schilderkunst herontdekt 1500-1530, exh. cat., Antwerp, 2005, p. 182, under no. 76 (catalogue entry by G. Hoffmann).

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Lot Essay

In 1933 Max J. Friedländer attributed a group of eight panels, including the present two, to the workshop of an unknown artist identified by the pseudonym The Master of the Antwerp Crucifixion. Two other panels from this group were also once in the collection of Alexander Fleischner: Abraham and Melchisedek, sold at Sotheby's, New York, 25 January 2001, lot 36; and Christ before Pilate, last recorded in the 1929 sale. Four others, depicting The Mass of Pope Gregory (two panels), Agony in the Garden and Festival of Pentacost, were offered in the deceased sale of 'Madame C.' at Drouot, Paris, 5 December 1908, lots 31-32, as 'German School, 16th Century' and are now in the Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht (inv. no. 4934; on loan from the ICN, The Hague).

These eight panels are likely to orginally have formed part of an eleborate, monumental altarpiece, the configuration and origins of which are not known, however the shape and size of the panels, which is fairly uniform, suggests that they would have been positioned on the same, central register, possibly with predella panels below and pinnacles above. Furthermore, the four Bonnefanten panels would appear to form the recto and verso of two wings, and the fact that the present two panels shared the same provenance as the panels of Abraham and Melchisedek and Christ before Pilate up to at least the 1929 sale, may suggest that they also formed the recto and verso of two wings. The centerpiece, which has not been traced, would either have been a large paiting (Friedländer suggested a Last supper), or a carved wooden shrine.

The present two panels, recently rediscovered in a German private collection, depict The Old Testament scene of Elijah sleeping in the wilderness with the angel bringing bread and a jar of water, and the New Testament scene of The Ascension of Christ in the presence of the Virgin and eleven of His apostles.
The figures are distinctly tall and slender, and their poses and gestures are both dynamic and lyrical. Note for example the positioning of the two apostles flanking the Virgin in The Ascension, the one to the left is facing forward and making a flamboyant gesture with his arms to draw the viewer's attention to the Virgin in the centre, while the other to the right has his back to the viewer gesturing into the crowd. The landscape is painted meticulously and enriched with anecdotal details. Both paintings are beautifully preserved, with the thick impasto of the foliage still intact.

Friedländer pointed out that the tall figures with their slightly elongated faces and small eyes, as well as the pronounced rock formations in the landscapes, stylistically owe much to The Master of the Antwerp Crucifixion, who has been identified by Godehard Hoffmann as Adiaen van Overbeke (active in circa 1510-1529). In his essay on the four Bonnefanten panels, which have also been attributed to Jan Wellens de Cock in the past, Hoffmann points to the stylistic similarities with works by van Overbeke: the broad facial types with the hanging angle of the mouth and sunken eyes, and the thin hands with long fingers. He suggests that the Bonnefanten panels were painted by an artist who may have worked only briefly in the workshop of Adriaen van Overbeke, or who may initially have been active in his studio and moved to another workshop later on, incorporating different stylistic elements from various Antwerp masters (op. cit, 2005). The artist may also have derived elements from other sources such as prints, for instance woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer, as was common at the time.

The high level of execution and originality of design in these panels are in keeping with the standard of altarpieces being produced in Antwerp during this period. The metropolis of Antwerp was a thriving centre for export of altarpieces to the rest of Europe and it has been tentatively suggested that because of their rectangular shape these panels may have formed part of a commission for the Rhineland.

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