Rhine Gold: Sumptuous 16th-century German Altarpiece Steals the Show

On 26 March 2021, by Anne Doridou-Heim

Marquetry furniture and an altarpiece featuring the Dormition of the Virgin, in which saints and devotional objects surround the sleeping Virgin Mary, were the auction’s highlights.

Swabia or Upper Rhine, first quarter of the 16th century, The Dormition of the Virgin, altarpiece fragment depicting the Virgin and ten apostles, polychrome limewood, 70 x 91 x 32 cm (27.55 x 35.82 x 12.59 in), cracks and restored areas.
Result: €444,500

The focal point of this dense, first-rate sale was The Dormition of the Virgin, part of an early 16th-century Germanic carved altarpiece that still has its original polychrome. The deeply religious theme depicts the moment when the Mother of Christ departs this world for the next, where her son is waiting for her. Ten of the twelve grieving apostles gather around the Virgin. this monument of virtuosity was carved in limewood in a studio in Swabia or on the banks of the Upper Rhine at the dawn of a 16th century full of promise. The altarpiece, full of a vibrant sensibility and realism designed to capture faithful believers' attention, sold for €444,500.

The holy lady was not surrounded by apostles alone, as the sale contained a wealth of fine objects from the Renaissance. They included an ivory plaque (€66,040), a prayer bead (€86,360), paintings, including a Seascape with the city of Dordrecht in the distance by Jacob Adriaensz Bellevois (1621-1676) that fetched €63,500, and furniture at the crossroads of European and Indian culture, such as a "contador", a pedestal-mounted cabinet (€41,910). A young, living Mary appears in Holy conversation, with the Virgin and child between saint John the Baptist and saint Joseph, an oil on panel by Pietro degli Ingannati, who is documented as being active in Venice from 1529 to 1550. the composition—half-length figures in a triptych with a landscape background—derives from Giovanni Bellini’s paintings of around 1490. Ingannati was one of Bellini’s closest followers. these qualities pushed the bidding up to €57,150.

A delightful pair of ivory statuettes carved in germany (h. 15 and 14 cm, 5.2 x 5.7) depicting Jesus and saint John the Baptist as children sold for €20,320. Then it was time to rejoin the secular world. a "Mazarine" commode featuring rich butterfly, flower and foliage marquetry, whose sides and slightly cross-bow shaped façade are veneered in ebony, netted €57,150.

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