H. Bouchot, L. Delisle, et alii, Exposition des Primitifs Français, exhibition catalogue, Paris 1904, p. 129, no. 357 (as "Ecole de l'Est, vers 1470", 18 by 12 cm.);
D. Wolfthal, The beginnings of Nederlandisch canvas painting: 1400-1530, Cambridge 1989, p. 56, no. 34, reproduced fig. 94 (location unknown).
A major exhibition at the Louvre in 1904, Exposition des Primitifs Français, marked the beginning of a rediscovery of French primitive artists and their works. This exquisite painting on linen was presented as Ecole de l'Est, vers 1470, and attributed to the Colmar school. Two years later, in Théodore Mercier's sale in Paris (Hôtel Drouot), it was sold under the denomination Ecole française XVe siècle. The delicacy of the pale flesh-tones, the maternal sweetness of the blonde Virgin, the taste for abstract forms could justify the French attribution.
However, at a subsequent exhibition in 1989, The beginning of Netherlandish canvas paintings: 1400-1530, Diane Wolfthal christened the anonymous artist the Master of the Dijon Madonna; this theory is based on the stylistic similarities which link this painting with a virtually identical composition now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon. Since then, several other works, all very similar, have been attributed to the Master. Wolfthal considered the artist to be a Flemish painter working in the following of the Master of the Magdalen Legend. The influence of this artist, active in Brussels in the late Fifteenth and early Sixteenth century, is perceptible in the convincingly rendered textures, such as the hair, the detail of the Virgin's neck-line and the delicately ornate background. This implies the revision of the date given at the Paris exhibition on 1904, and places this painting most probably around the year 1500.
Since these essential discoveries, several versions of this painting by the same artist have appeared, all very close to the original Dijon painting, all painted in tempera on linen and of similar dimensions. These works on canvas, known as Tüchlein paintings, were used as cheap alternatives for panels, and therefore enabled a wider distribution of an image, which was probably important and in demand. Wolfthal suggested that our painting could have been based on a picture perhaps believed to be miracle-working, or by the hand of St. Luke. Very few of these works survive because of their fragile nature. The state of conservation of our painting is exceptional, despite the fact that it has been reduced in size by the trimming, at an unknown date, of the rounded painted frame that completed the original rectangular work.
Another version of this painting was sold in New York on 29 January 1999, for $ 552,500.
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