This beautifully modelled group of the Madonna and Child is a product of the Florentine renaissance yet it retains some subtle elements of the late gothic scultpural tradition. Certainly, the spontaneous and intimate gesture of the mother holding her child close to her face is typical of the realism espoused by renaissance sculptors, and the generous folds of the Madonna's cloak hark back to classical prototypes. However, the posture of the Madonna, which at first appears to be straightforwardly contrapposto, is actually a graceful S-curve, recalling gothic figures of the 14th century. The face of the Madonna, with its thin, almond-shaped eyes, and tiny mouth and chin also retains something of gothic ideals.
The terracotta shares a number of characteristics with works from the circle of Donatello including a terracotta group of the Madonna and Child from the Mellon Collection at the National Gallery of Art in Washington (1937.1.112). Like the present group, the Mellon terracotta has the same delicate facial features and thick locks of curling hair. There is also a common interest in classical costume with both Madonnas wearing a fillet around the head as well as sandals, and the afore-mentioned heavy drapery.
The Mellon terracotta entered the collection attributed to Donatello, and one can see with both the Mellon group and the present lot that there are strong similarities to his work (note, for example, the parallels between the face of the Christ Child in this lot and the face of Christ in lot 29, a composition widely accepted as a work of Donatello's). However, there are also differences from documented works by the master, and the Mellon terracotta has more recently been conservatively catalogued as 'Florence, circa 1425'. It may not be possible, thus far, to attribute the present group of the Madonna and Child to a particular hand. However it is clear that this apparently unique composition comes from the immediate circle of one of the founders of the Italian renaissance.
The present lot comes with a thermoluminescence test showing that it was last fired between 400 and 700 years ago.
Rudolf Ritter von Gutmann was born on May 21, 1880 in Vienna, the son of coal and steel magnate Wilhelm von Gutmann and his wife Ida. One of the foremost entrepreneurs of the Austrian-Hungarian industrial revolution, Wilhelm von Gutmann was also active in civic life - he founded the fore-runner of the Federation of Austrian Industrialists - and in philanthropic work. He was involved in the establishment, and funding of many Jewish charities, schools and institutions, such as the famed Rudolfinerhaus Hospital.
After Wilhelm's death in 1895, his son Max assumed responsibility for the family business, allowing his brother Rudolf to pursue his interest in the fine arts. Financially independent, Rudolf built up a vast collection of Old Master paintings, works of art, engravings, prints, books and manuscripts. Within a few years he had assembled a collection that was considered one of the finest and most important private collections in Austria.
In 1938, only hours before the Anschluss, von Gutmann and his wife Marianne fled Austria, leaving behind all their possessions. They escaped to Czechoslovakia and finally settled in British Columbia, where they were to live until his death in 1966.
Gutmann's collection, consisting of more than 1000 items, his business assets and his extensive real estate, were all seized by the Nazis. The majority of the art collection was intended for Hitler's planned Linz Museum and stored under the Führervorbehalt. Many items entered museums and public collections, including the National Library, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Joanneum, Graz, the Belvedere and the Albertina.
Gutmann was successful in regaining parts of his collection after the war and, following the Austrian Art Restitution Act of 1998, 'donated' works from the National Library and the Albertina were returned to his heirs in 2006.