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Post Lot Text
A CARVED OVAL AGATE CAMEO OF CHRIST, WITH THE ANNUNCIATION IN INTAGLIO ON ITS REVERSE
ATTRIBUTED TO GIOVANNI DELLE CORNIUOLE (CIRCA 1470 - AFTER 1516), LATE 15TH CENTURY
Christ facing in profile to the left; on reverse, a sard intaglio of the Annunciation showing the dove of the Holy Spirit hovering over the Virgin Mary who is greeted by the archange Gabriel; in an enamelled oval frame with spiral twist border supported by a scrolled stand
This unusual cameo depicts Christ according to the image that was standard in bronze devotional medals in the late 15th century, though it is not copied from any particular one (compare G. F. Hill, The Medallic Portraits of Christ, Oxford 1920; and C. Avery in E. G. Heller ed., Icons or Portraits? Images of Jesus and Mary from the Collection of Michael Hall, The Gallery at the American Bible Society, New York, 2002, nos. 92-94).
In style it recalls two other celebrated images in semi-precious stones of famous men of the day: Lorenzo 'Il Magnifico' de' Medici in an agate cameo, and Fra Girolamo Savonarola in a cornelian intaglio (both Museo degli Argenti, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, Inv. Gemme 1921, nos. 111 and 321; Avery loc. cit., pls. A and D).
The Savonarola was attributed by Vasari in the second edition of his Lives to a certain Giovanni delle Corniuole, whose very surname 'of the cornelians' indicates his skill in gem-cutting. Son of Lorenzo di Pietro delle Opere, he was born in Pisa about 1470, and so can have only worked for Lorenzo briefly, as the latter died in 1492. His standing is proven by the fact that after the Medici had been sent into exile he and two goldsmiths were instructed by the new Republican government to value the jewellery that they had seized. Giovanni was a taxpayer in 1498, was chosen as one of those qualified to give an opinion on the siting of Michelangelo's David in the Piazza della Signoria in 1403, and in 1513 was commissioned to cut a cornelian with an image of Hercules to serve as the new seal of the Republic.
Avery first set out the reasons for associating these three gems with Giovanni delle Corniuole (op. cit., pp. 75-76) writing:
In all three portraits an equal proficiency in rendering the bone structure in comparatively low relief is manifest: for instance, the relationship of the eye and its socket to the cheekbone and nose is absolutely convincing. Despite the intractability of the materials and the small scale, each portrait has a distinct and appropriate character: Savonarola's hard-set features and fixed gaze give an aura of asceticism and firm, indeed fanatical, resolve; Lorenzo's, by the equally solid rendering of the forehead and jaw, reinforced by a distinct, upward tilt of the face, bespeaks one used to command; while Christ's, with its delicate nose, sensitive lips and (beneath the beard) a slightly recessive chin, betrays a feeling of human frailty, which however is offset by the carefully drilled pupil. This imbues the portrait with great pathos, which is all the more remarkable when one remembers that it is a creation of the imagination, unlike the other two. There seems good reason therefore to associate the newly discovered cameo of Christ with the portraits of Savonarola and more particularly of Lorenzo. If one accepts the ascription of the latter to Giovanni delle Corniuole then perhaps the Christ also may be attributed to Lorenzo's protegé, who was singled out for such praise by Vasari.