From whom acquired in 1895 for £900 by Sir Francis Cook, 1st Bt (1817–1901), Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey (as attributed to Hugo van der Goes);
Thence by descent to Sir Frederick Cook, 2nd Bt (1844–1920), Richmond;
Thence by descent to Sir Herbert Cook, 3rd Bt (1868–1939), Richmond;
With Rosenberg, Stiebel and Heinemann, New York;
From whom purchased by the father of the present owner by 1963;
Thence by descent.
Kreuzlingen, Evangelischen Kirchgemeindehaus, Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Heinz Kisters, 17 July – 8 August 1971, no. 16;
Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, Die Heiligen Drei Könige. Darstellung und Verehrung, 1 December 1982 – 30 January 1983, no. 79.
M.W. Brockwell, Catalogue of the collection of Sir Frederick Cook, Richmond, 3 vols, English, French, early Flemish, German and Spanish Schools, and addenda, vol. III, London 1915, p. 97, cat. no. 474, reproduced p. 96 (as later Flemish school under the influence of Hugo van der Goes);
M.J. Friedländer, Die altniederländische Malerei, Geertgen van Haarlem und Hieronymus Bosch, vol. V, Berlin 1927, pp. 59, 137, cat. no. 36 (as follower of Geertgen tot Sint Jans);
M. W. Brockwell, Abridged catalogue of the pictures at Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, in the collection of Sir Herbert Cook, Bart, London 1932, p. 14, cat. no. 474 (as attributed to Van der Goes, ‘the attribution is in no sense determined’);
P. Strieder, Sammlung Heinz Kisters. Altdeutsche und altniederländische Gemälde, exh. cat., Nuremberg 1963, pp. 13 ff., cat. no. 67, reproduced plate 78 (as an anonymous Ghent Master of the early sixteenth century);
K. Löcher, ‘Besprechung der Ausstellung altdeutscher und altniederländischer gemälde aus der Sammlung Heinz Kisters', in Pantheon, vol. 21, June 1963, p. 398 (as follower of Hugo van der Goes);
P. Pieper, ‘Die Sammlung Heinz Kisters. Zu der Ausstellung im Germanischen Nationalmuseum Nürnberg', in Kunstchronik, issue 8, August 1963, p. 209 (as a 16th-century copy of Van der Goes, probably from Ghent);
F. Winkler, Das Werk des Hugo van der Goes, Berlin 1964, p. 296, reproduced p. 299, fig. 239 (as a sixteenth-century follower of Hugo van der Goes, probably from Ghent);
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting. Geertgen tot Sint Jans and Jerome Bosch, vol. V, Leiden and Brussels 1969, pp. 35 and 78, cat. no. 36, reproduced plate 24 (as a follower of Geertgen tot Sint Jans; possibly a copy);
T. Onken, Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Heinz Kisters, exh. cat., Kreuzlingen 1971, p. 22, cat. no. 16;
R. Budde and F.G. Zehnder (eds), Die Heiligen Drei Könige. Darstellung und Verehrung, exh. cat., Cologne 1982, p. 200, cat. no. 79 (as unknown Ghent Master, early sixteenth-century);
J. Sander, ‘An Hugos Statt. Das Künstlerselbstbildnis in den Kopien und Varianten nach dem Monforte-Altar des Hugo van der Goes als Ausdruck künstlerischen Selbstbewußtseins', in Porträt – Landschaft – Interior. Jan van Eycks Rolin-Madonna im ästhetischen Kontext, C. Kruse and F. Thürlemann (eds), Tübingen 1999, pp. 237–51 (as follower of Geertgen tot Sint Jans).
The Holy Family, the three Kings and their retinue are all shown knee-length before a backdrop of ruined architecture looking through to other distant buildings beyond. The architectural setting, and in particular the figures of the Virgin and Child and the central King, are all closely dependent upon Hugo’s composition. Like the Montforte altarpiece itself, which has since lost some of its upper edge as well as its wings, this panel may originally have been slightly taller, but the narrow format was not unknown at this date, notably in the work of Van der Goes himself.3 While all scholars have acknowledged the influence of Van der Goes on this work, there has been less agreement as to where and when this panel may have been painted. The earliest history of the Montforte altarpiece itself offers no clues, and it was likely imported into Spain in the sixteenth century.4 Most scholars, such as Friedrich Winkler in his catalogue of Hugo's work published in 1964 and later Kurt Löcher, note the strong parallels with the Montforte altarpiece and assign the ex-Cook panel to the following of Van der Goes in the southern Netherlands, most probably in Ghent where he was active, and date the panel to the beginning of the sixteenth century. Other scholars such as Zehnder have agreed with this, pointing out details such as the finely wrought gold gifts held by the Kings as reflective of stylistic trends current in Antwerp in the 1520s, suggesting that the panel may perhaps date from the following generation. It is certainly true that the influence of Van der Goes was keenly felt in Antwerp. The central section of the Montforte altarpiece seems to have been adopted there by the Master of Frankfurt in his Adoration of the Magi in Antwerp, and to a lesser extent also by Joos van Cleve in his great Nativity in the National Gallery in London, both works of around 1510–15. Another variant of the Nativity, of related design to the Montforte altarpiece but with the figures seen at half-length as here, although not known in an autograph prototype, is found in several near-contemporary examples, for example in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
It was Max Friedländer who was the first to propose an alternative interpretation and attribution for the present work. Although he acknowledged its debt to Van der Goes, he found in its dynamic and compact form a different aesthetic. He suggested instead that its author must have been close to the Haarlem painter Geertgen tot Sint Jans (1465–1495), and that it might reflect a lost original by him. Following cleaning of some of the over-painted figures in 1956, when the painting was still in the Cook Collection, he briefly considered it as a possible autograph work,5 but later retracted this to his following. This connection to Geertgen and the possibility that the panel was painted in Haarlem in the northern Netherlands rather than in the south was examined further more recently by Jochen Sander. He specifically compares the figure of the central Magus with that of the bearded mourner in Geertgen’s Lamentation from the High Altar of the Order of St John, painted after 1484 now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and he also concludes that the painting was the work of a follower of Geertgen and possibly in Haarlem.6 If this is so then it provides a fascinating reflection of what Friedländer termed ‘the lively power and new pictorial ideas that were stirring on Dutch soil towards the end of the fifteenth century’.7
We are indebted to John Somerville, the Cook Collection Archivist, for his help with this catalogue entry.
1 Now in the Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam.
2 See J. Sander, Hugo van der Goes, Stilentwicklung und Chronologie, Mainz 1992, pp. 232–34, colour plates 1–3.
3 See for example the Nativity of around 1480 also now in Berlin; Sander 1992, p. 238, colour plates 14 and 15. The panel measures 97 x 245 cm.
4 It is thought that it may have reached Spain as early as the sixteenth century, for it takes its name from the monastery of that name near Lemos from which it was acquired in the early twentieth century.
5 Annotated photograph, dated Amsterdam 17 April [?] 1956.
6 Friedländer 1969, p. 74, cat. no. 6, reproduced plate 8
7 Friedländer 1969, p. 35.
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