The Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl (active Leuven and Haarlem, c. 1470-1490)
The Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl (active Leuven and Haarlem, c. 1470-1490)
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These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION (LOTS 26 & 32)
The Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl (active Leuven and Haarlem, c. 1470-1490)

The Virgin and Child in a walled garden

The Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl (active Leuven and Haarlem, c. 1470-1490)
The Virgin and Child in a walled garden
dated '1468' (centre right, beneath the arch)
oil on panel
14 x 9 ¼ in. (35.6 x 23.5 cm.), with an addition of approximately ¼ in. along the right edge
Rev. J.M. Heath; Christie's, London, 10 April 1880, lot 161, as ‘School of Van Eyck, about 1480’ (62 gns. to Corbels).
Stephenson Clarke, Hayward's Heath, Sussex, by circa 1892, and by descent to the following,
Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke, Hayward’s Heath, Sussex, until circa 1953-54; and by descent to
Colonel Robert Stephenson Clarke, Haywards Heath, Sussex; Christie’s, London, 28 November 1975, lot 38, as ‘Circle of Dieric Bouts’ (48,000 gns. to Speelman).
with E. Speelman, London, 1975.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 29 June 1979, lot 93, as ‘Circle of Dieric Bouts’, when acquired by a private collector.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, New York, 29 May 2003, lot 128, when acquired by the following,
with Alexander Gallery, New York, from whom acquired by the present owner.
G.E. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, London, 1857, IV, p. 316, as ‘School of Van Eyck, about 1480’.
G. Hulin de Loo, Bruges. Exposition des tableaux flamands des XIVe, XVe, et XVIe siécles. Catalogue critique, Ghent, 1902, no. 43, as ‘Dieric Bouts’.
M.J. Friedländer, Die Altniederlandische Malerei, Berlin, 1934, III, p. 125, no. 87, pl. LXXIII, as ‘Follower of Dieric Bouts’.
W. Schöne, Dieric Bouts und seine Schule, Berlin/Leipzig, 1938, p. 213, no. 142, as ‘Follower of Dieric Bouts’.
M. J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, New York, 1968, III, p. 72, no. 87, pl. 95, as ‘Follower of Dieric Bouts’.
Apollo, November 1975, p. 25, illustrated.
J. Vacková, Collections de Tchécoslovaquie (Les Primitifs flamands. II. Répertoire des peinture flamandes), IV, Brussels, 1985, p. 35, under no. 6.
J. Snyder, ‘Master of the Tiburtine Sybil’, in J. Turner, ed., The Dictionary of Art, London, 1996, XX, p. 773.
S. Holmes, ed., Festschrift: Selections from a Collection, Hartford, 2008, no. 58.
V. Hendricks, Albrecht Bouts (1451/55-1549), Brussels, 2011, pp. 305 and 337, note 367.
London, Royal Academy of Art, Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters, 1891, no. 162.
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, Exhibition of pictures by Masters of the Netherlands and Allied Schools of the XV and XVI Centuries, 1892, no. 13, as ‘Early Flemish School’.
London, New Gallery, Exhibition of Pictures by Masters of the Flemish and British Schools including a selection from the works of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, 1899- 1900, no. 42, as ‘Dieric Bouts’.
Bruges, Gruuthusepalais Exposition des Primitifs Flamands et d'Art Ancien, 15 June-15 September 1902, no. 43, as ‘Thierry Bouts’.
London, Guildhall Art Gallery of the Corporation of London, Exhibition of a selection of works by Flemish and Modern Belgian painters, 1906, no. 26, as ‘Dieric Bouts’.
London, Royal Academy, Flemish Art, 5 December 1953- 6 March 1954, no. 44 as ‘Follower of Dieric Bouts’.
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Flemish Art, on loan, 2007-2009.
Special notice

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Specifed lots (sold and unsold) marked with a filled square not collected from Christie’s, 8 King Street, London SW1Y 6QT by 5.00 pm on the day of the sale will, at our option, be removed to Crown Fine Art (details below). Christie’s will inform you if the lot has been sent ofsite. If the lot is transferred to Crown Fine Art, it will be available for collection from 12.00 pm on the second business day following the sale. Please call Christie’s Client Service 24 hours in advance to book a collection time at Crown Fine Art. All collections from Crown Fine Art will be by prebooked appointment only.

Lot Essay

An important early devotional painting by the Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl, this refined panel depicts the Virgin and Child seated in an enclosed garden within a palace courtyard. This anonymous master was named by Max J. Friedländer, who assembled a group of stylistically similar paintings around the panel of the Vision of Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl of circa 1476 in the Städelsches Kunstinstitute, Frankfurt. Having presumably received his initial training in Dieric Bouts’s Leuven workshop, the painter is thought to have travelled to Haarlem sometime around 1480- 82, where he established a thriving and prolific workshop. The date of ‘1468’, which appears on the wall next to the column at centre right in this painting, establishes the panel as one of the Master’s earliest known works. Notably, it was in this very year that Bouts was named official painter to Leuven. It is therefore unsurprising that the Virgin and Child retains strong affinities with Bouts’s distinctive stylistic idiom, which emphasises strongly-modeled facial types with wide, heart-shaped foreheads and firm bone structure; highly detailed landscape backgrounds; and an attention to texture and soft atmospheric tonalities. In fact, historically until the early 2000s, this painting was believed to be by Bouts or one of his close followers. Yet several features distinguish this work as by the Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl. Unlike Bouts, the Tiburtine Sibyl Master often populated his paintings with what Friedländer described as ‘foppish’ figures, who tend to stand with their stomachs pushed out, dressed in ‘excessively modish’ attire (op. cit., 1968,p. 41). The scholar further noted that the artist was fond of animals, populating his landscapes and courtyards with a veritable menagerie of peacocks, monkeys, and greyhounds, while ‘wherever there is water, there are swans’. Indeed, two swans float down the river at upper left, while a peacock and a lamb appear to either side of the Virgin’s head, in the background. The painter equally favoured situating his compositions within gardened castle courtyards. As in the present work, these are often surrounded by tall buildings over which can be seen a vast countryside. Even when such a setting is at odds with the narrative, for example in The Raising of Lazarus (fig. 1; Mexico City, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Galerias de Pintura y Escultura de San Carlo, Mexico City), the Master of the Tributine Sibyl relished in depicting these architectural features.

In the present work, the Virgin and Child are seated in a private garden, accessible exclusively via a wooden gate. This verdant setting is a reference to the hortus conclusus, a sacred precinct dedicated to the Virgin and an earthly representation of Paradise. Mary’s luxurious red and ultra-marine robes, with ermine trimmed sleeves, reflect her status as Queen of Heaven. With her left hand, she picks one of three flowers blooming from a single plant on the stone ledge that serves as her throne. These small white flowers may be read as a symbol of the Trinity. On the ground before them are wild strawberries, frequently used as an emblem of Christ, who bore five wounds during the Passion that are paralleled by the five points of the strawberry cap, and also symbolic of the Virgin’s purity. This fruit may also represent the Trinity, since leaves on the stems of wild strawberry plants occur in sets of three. The peacock perched on the wall behind them can be understood as both a symbol of Christ's immortality and His resurrection, as well as of worldly pride and ambition. Above them, God the Father looks down from the parting heavens. The three elegant women who appear in the courtyard below him are finely attired according to late-fifteenth century fashion. These are the Virgin’s saintly attendants: the first two are the virgin Saint Dorothy, identifiable by her attribute of a basket of apples and roses; and Saint Agnes, who appears with her lamb; while the third lady, who wears a blue headdress with what seems to be a crown, may be Saint Barbara, although she lacks her traditional attribute of a tower.

Examination of the painting’s underdrawing, visible through infrared reflectography (fig. 2), reveals that the Master of the Tiburtine Sibyl laid out the entire composition with loose, freely-drawn lines, sketched in a liquid medium. At a second stage, he appears to have reinforced the outlines of several key contours in the drapery and architecture, possibly with paint. The background figures were drawn in after the details were plotted out, as evidenced by the lines that define the garden beds and walls, which pass through the figures’s bodies. Comparison of the underdrawing and the finished painting reveals that the Master made several minute changes to his composition. Initially, the garden beds in the background were planned to recede deeper into space. The artist also made slight adjustments to the contours of the Virgin’s head, which was originally somewhat smaller. Christ’s ear also appears to have been repositioned slightly. While the underdrawing shows no evidence of pouncing, a cartoon for this composition was likely created at some point. Indeed, a replica was formerly in the Litomerice Cathedral, Czechoslovakia (today, the Czech Republic), but has been untraced since World War II (see M.J. Friedländer, op. cit., 1968, no. 87a). The ex-Litomerice panel appears to be nearly identical to the present work, barring the addition of a kneeling figure beneath the arcade.

The Virgin and Child in a walled garden was first recorded in the collection of the Rev. John Moore Heath (1808-1882), vicar of Enfield, who had amassed a notable collection of Old Masters, including Jacob Adriaensz. Ochtervelt’s Singing Violinist (The Leiden Collection, New York), as well as several Early Netherlandish pictures with attributions to Hans Memling, Quentin Metsys and Joachim Patinir. It then passed to Stephenson Clarke, who assembled a prestigious collection in the late nineteenth century, having made a fortune expanding his father’s Northumberland coal business, which he had inherited in 1849, and which subsequently had become the largest in the United Kingdom. The Clarke collection was formed mainly under the careful guidance of the dealer and collector Martin Colnaghi, and was amassed almost entirely in the 1880s.

We are grateful to Peter van den Brink for endorsing the attribution on the basis of a photograph (written communication, 27 May 2018).

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