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Post Lot Text
A GILT-BRONZE GROUP OF A UNICORN HUNT
SOUTH GERMAN OR ITALIAN, 17TH CENTURY
Composed of a leaping unicorn pursued by three hounds each standing on their hind legs, and a running male hunter blowing a horn and carrying a spear in his right hand; each on a modern shaped wood plinth, elements replaced and associated, minor damages and wear to gilding
The Master of the Bull Hunt takes his name from a group of bronzes which were formerly in the Garbaty collection, Berlin, and which were sold at auction in 1917. That group, which was made up of three hunstmen on horseback, five hunters on foot, a bull and three dogs, was described at the time of the sale and subsequently by Schottmüller (loc. cit.) as 'Flemish, 17th century'. In 1967, Weihrauch attempted to attribute the group to Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630-1700), a Danish sculptor who had training in Rome and an extensive career in England, however this has not received widespread acceptance.
When the present group appeared at auction in 1985 (Christie's, London, 3 April, lot 133), Charles Avery wrote that the bull hunt group 'has since been related by Anthony Radcliffe to a bronze group of the Rape of a Sabine in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which bears the coat-of-arms of the Sanesio family of Rome'. Avery went on to cite the influence of Bernini on the male figure, and the presence of a Neapolitan breed of dog to suggest that the author of the group may have been Roman or Neapolitan and active in the 17th century.
The question of attribution is, however, complicated by the fact that while the dogs in the present group are virtually identical to the dogs of the Bull Hunt, the single male figure here is much less mannered than his counterparts. The Bull Hunt figures display exaggerated dance-like poses which are quite unlike the robust naturalism of the running figure in the present lot, although this may suggest that the production of the two groups are separated by a number of years, during which time the artist came under a more strongly Roman influence. If the author of both these groups was a northern artist who travelled south to Italy, this might explain the appearance of northern characteristics in the present group such as the finely chiselled pelts of the dogs and unicorn. Regardless of origin, the bronzes here are, in their conception and in the vivacity of their modelling, clearly products of the High Baroque era.