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European Sculpture & Works of Art

Lost for Two Centuries, Two Charming Putti Created in the German Renaissance

By Sotheby's
Sotheby's upcoming sale, Collection Schickler-Pourtalès Art and Power in the XIXth Century, in Paris on 16 May brings to auction two treasures of Renaissance craftsmanship thought lost for two hundred years.

S culpted by Hans Daucher around 1525-1530, these magnificent putti are a masterpiece of the German Renaissance. They once decorated the balustrade of the chapel of the prestigious Fugger family in Augsburg, alongside several other putti, which are today displayed in the Maximilian Museum. Lost for more than two centuries when the church was dismantled, the discovery of these sculptures in the Schickler-Pourtalès collection in Martinvast is a major event for collectors and art historians.

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Important pair of Putti from the Fugger Chapel in Augsburg by Hans Daucher, circa 1525-1530, Estimate upon request

The Fugger chapel is the first and most influential example of Italian Renaissance architecture in Germany, executed to the highest standards reflecting the Fugger family’s power, influence and taste. The chapel was erected in 1518 by the Fugger brothers Ulrich and Jakob the Rich as a family funeral chapel, in honour of their brother George who died in 1506.

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Augsburg, Maître S.L., Fugger’s Chapel in Augsburg, drawing from the XVIth century, © Kunstsammlungen Augsburg

When the chapel was restored and modernised in 1821, the marble balustrade was destroyed and the sculptures dismantled and dispersed. A hundred years later five of the lost putti were discovered not far from Augsburg. A 16th century drawing in the Augsburg Maximilian museum gives evidence of the original display of the putti on the polychrome marble balustrade.

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Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Paumgartner Altar, ca 1498/1504 provenant de l’église Sainte Catherine de Nuremberg, ©Alte Pinakothek Munich (inv.n° 701)

A putto is mostly depicted as a chubby male child, usually naked and sometimes winged. A very common subject in the Renaissance, a putto is also called amorino, personifying love, particularly in the artistic representations of the Italian Quattrocento. Putti also appear as sculptures on the facade of a palace or take the role of funeral spirits framing an epitaph, like the putti framing the tombs in the Fugger chapel, where they hold a cartouche inscribed with the virtues of the deceased.

The realistic representation of children leaning on a globe may also evoke the subject of Vanity or Memento Mori, indicating the ephemeral nature of life, the Conditio humana and Vita brevis, notions widespread at the time.

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(Detail) Important pair of Putti from the Fugger Chapel in Augsburg by Hans Daucher, circa 1525-1530, Estimate upon request

These sculptures are masterpieces of carving, alternating rough and polished surfaces, with others carefully worked in high relief in the very fine beige marble. Remarkable are the curls of his hair with the crown of flowers, his wings, whose feathers are perfectly carved with the chisel. The decoration of the putto’s dress with foliage scrolls carved in high relief imitating brocade is a great testimony of the sculptor’s talent.

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(Detail) Important pair of Putti from the Fugger Chapel in Augsburg by Hans Daucher, circa 1525-1530, Estimate upon request

The putto wearing a helmet charms with his childish face and innocent expression, putting a finger of his right hand into his mouth, in a gesture characteristic of a naughty child, perfectly observed by the sculptor. With almond-shaped eyes and finely drawn lips, with a slightly preponderant chin, the other child has almost adult features. His hands crossed on the globe, he looks with a slightly worried expression.

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