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Follower of Rogier van der Weyden

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  • Rogier van der Weyden
  • The pietà, with saints John and Mary Magdelene
  • oil on oak panel


Possibly acquired by Alessandro Farnese in Flanders, and by descent in the Farnese collection, Parma, to Elisabetta Farnese;

Possibly her son, Carlo di Borbone (1716-1788), by whom brought to Naples in 1734 when he was crowned Carlo III;

Possibly the picture mentioned in the inventory `dei mobile, degli oggetti preziosi, della libreria, della quadreria, del medagliere, dell’armeria e di quanto contenevasi nel Ducal palazzo di Parma’ kept in the Archivio di Stato di Napoli, no. 237: Quadro in tavola con cornice dorata, alto oncie nove, largo oncie sette. Un Cristo morto sopra d’un lenzuolo sostenuto da Nicodemo con le tre Marie, una delle quali vestita di nero.  Di Luca d’Olanda’ [Lucas van Leyden];

Possibly thence by descent to King Ferdinand I (1751-1825), and by whom given with a marble statue of the reigning sovereign to:

Carlo Marsella, Direttore Generale del Gran Libro del Debito Pubblico at the Bourbon Court in Naples (died 1824);

His nephew Domenico Mazzetti Marsella (died 1834), and probably in his 1834 inventory, p. 48, `un quadro a tavola di palmo uno e quarto, per tre quarti, con cornice dorata, rappresante Gesù desceso dalla Croce, colle Marie, dell’autore Luca di Olanda’ [Lucas van Leyden];

Bequeathed to his widow Luisa Belmonte and daughters Luigia and Adelaide;

Adelaide, wife of Filippo De Vito Piscicelli;

By whom bequeathed to her daughters Maria Luisa and Cecilia and her mother Luisa Belmonte;

In the 1896 inventory of the eredità Mazzetti-Marsella, no. 75, as belonging to Sig.ra Luisa Belmonte (died 1898), in her inventory of 18th August 1898, no. 1219, as “quadretto dipinto ad olio su legno con cornice dorata rappresentante Cristo desceso dalla Croce, valutato L. 600”;

Her daughter, Cecilia, who married Antonio Mangoni di Santo Stefano;

By descent to the present owners.


M.J. Friedländer, Die Altniederlandische Malerei, vol. II, Rogier van der Weyden und der Meister van Flémalle,Leiden 1934, p. 98, no. 20c, as a faithful copy after the Berlin Lamentation panel;

J. Destrée, Roger del la Pasture Van de Weyden, Paris & Brussels 1930, vol. I. p. 147, as “replique ou copie”;

M.J. Friedländer (ed. N. Veronee-Verhaegen), Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. II, Rogier van der Weyden and the Master of Flémalle, Leiden 1967, p. 64, no. 20c, as a faithful copy after the Berlin Lamentation panel;

P. Roberts-Jones, `La Pietà de Van der Weyden: Réflexion su la notion de Variant,’ in Bulletin Instiut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique, vol. XV, 1975, p. 345, as “copié lui-même dans une version”;

Possibly G. Bertini, La galleria del Duca di Parma: storia di una collezione, Bologna 1987, p. 167 (where the entry in the inventory of the Ducal palazzo in Parma is transcribed);

J. Dijkstra, Origineel en kopie.  Een onderzoek naar de navolging van de Meester van Flémalle en Rogier van de Weyden, dissertation, Amsterdam 1990, pp. 155ff;

C. Stroo & P. Syfer-d’Olne, The Flemish Primitives. I.  the Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden Groups (Catalogue of Early Netherlandish Painting in the Royal Museums of Fine Art of Belgium), Brussels 1996, p. 109, reproduced fig. 67, as Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (?);

H. Verougstraete & R. Van Schoute, `Les Petites Pietàs du groupe van der Weyden: mécanismes d’une production en série,’ in Technè, vol. V, 1997, pp. 22-4, 27, details of infra-red imaging reproduced p. 24, figs. 9a & b, as Groupe Van der Weyden;

L. Campbell, National Gallery Catalogues.  The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Schools, London 1998, pp. 440, 443-4, as version no. 3 of the compositions, post-dating the Prado and Brussels versions;

D. de Vos, Rogier van der Weyden.  Das Gesamtwerk, Munich 1999, p. 370, under no. B12, as a reduced copy of the Madrid Lamentation;

C. Stroo, in L. Campbell & J. Van der Stok, Rogier van der Weyden 1400-1464.  Master of Passions, exhibition catalogue, Leuven-Zwolle 2009, p. 507, under no. 74, as probably a combined copy linking the Brussels version with the Madrid and Berlin versions;

V. Bücken, in V. Bücken & G. Steyaert, L’Héritage de Rogier van der Weyden.  La peinture à Bruxelles 1450-1520, exhibition catalogue, Brussels 2013, p. 105, under no. 2, as one of four examples of variants of the Brussels panel with significant differences. 


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: This painting is on a fine oak panel, which may have been slightly cut at the top. At the centre of the top edge a fairly wide fragment of the paint layer has flaked away, including a section of the cross itself and the surrounding sky, with a line of dark sky strengthened further long the uppermost edge. There are other little retouchings visible under ultra violet light at the upper edge of the sky. The panel itself however is well preserved with no trace of movement or warping, and with a very fine even preparation. The horizontal grain of the oak is not reflected in the rather unusual diagonal craquelure. There are various scattered little knocks across the upper paint surface, almost resembling worm damage although there is no sign of worm in the panel itself, and these may simply stem from some past incidental damage. They have been retouched comparatively recently. Older reglazing can be sensed is areas such as the stomach of Christ and parts of His legs and lower arm. Other past strengthening seems likely in patches for instance below the arm of St John and in some of the lower folds of his drapery. Whereas in contrast the central image of the head and upper body of Christ interlinked with that of the Madonna with her exquisite white veiled drapery retains an extraordinary purity, finesse and delicacy with no trace of later interference. The minute detail of the landscape is finely preserved, as are much of the poignant figures of the Magdalen and St John. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This unusually well-preserved panel is an excellent example of the dissemination of Rogier van der Weyden’s pictorial tradition in Brussels, and a key work in linking other versions of the composition.

The figures of the Virgin and Christ are derived in reverse from Rogier van der Weyden’s Miraflores Triptych in Berlin, painted before 1445 and possibly before 1438.1 There may well have been an intermediary lost composition by Rogier with the figures aligned as here, but the final Rogierian form is known in several versions and derivations, of which this is one.  In each the figures of the Virgin and Christ are unchanged, but the subsidiary figures vary. 

The only version now generally - if not universally - accepted to be from Rogier’s own hand is the Pietà in Brussels, which is painted on an oak panel measuring 32.5 by 47.2 cm. (see fig. 1).2  Saint John, on bended knee and wearing red, assists the Virgin, clad in a rich blue cloak and habit, in cradling the dead Christ, while the Magdelene, in darker blue and a white headdress, occupying a corresponding position to the right of the composition, kneels at Christ’s feet, clasping her hands.  A version in London, on an oak panel measuring 37 by 46.7 cm. was long thought to be autograph, but Lorne Campbell and others assign it to Van der Weyden’s workshop in Brussels around the time of his death in 1464 or shortly thereafter, or to a former assistant (see fig. 2).3 In the London picture Saint John and Mary Magdelene are absent, and Saintt Jerome presents a kneeling donor to the left, and a Dominican saint, perhaps Saint Dominic himself appears to the right.  The landscape background is more extensive than in the Brussels picture, and is quite different to it.  Two further versions, in Berlin and Madrid, are very similar to one another (see details figs. 3 & 4).4  They are upright in format and show more of the Cross.  Saint John is seen as in the London painting, but with a green cloak over a blue robe, while to the right is a kneeling donor, dressed in red trimmed with black fur.  In the Berlin painting the Virgin wears a pale mauve garment (the colour is unlikely to be original), while in the Madrid picture She wears a dark purple-brown cloak and robe, both possibly derived from the rich brown garment that she wears in the present picture.  The landscape backgrounds are similar in both, and entirely different to the Brussels and London ones, but is more fully realised in the Madrid painting.  The principal differences within this group are thus: subsidiary figures; colour of garments; and landscape backgrounds. 

The present picture, whose picture surface preserves its original clarity and luminosity  and is easily read, follows the Brussels presumed original in the composition of the figures, and includes the Magdelene’s ointment jar but omits the skull below Christ’s legs, also found in the London painting.  The garments of Saint John and the Magdelene are similarly coloured, but the Virgin is dressed entirely in a deep brown robe.  The face of the Magdelene follows the Brussels version, but the head of Saint John differs from it, being similar to the Berlin and Madrid versions.  The beautiful and detailed landscape background, with a distant walled city to the right of the Cross, is most similar to the Madrid picture, but expands upon it, in particular to the left of Saint John and the right of the Magdelene, where the distant landscape is brought much nearer to the viewer.  It thus provides a link between the other versions.  Verougstraete and Schoute went so far as to suggest that the landscape backgrounds in the present version and the Madrid picture, and certain details such as the hair of Christ, appear to have been the work of the same hand.5  The measurements of the present picture in the Farnese inventory, and in the 1834 Domenico Mazzetti-Marsella inventory describe a painting measuring circa 40.9 by 31.8 cm. - in the latter "di palmo uno e quarto, per tre quarti" - and thus of upright proportions.6  The rough upper edge of the panel does indeed suggest that it may have been cut down.  This makes it even more plausible that this painting was the bridge between the Brussels composition and the Madrid and Berlin ones.

While the Brussels picture may have served as the model for the London, Madrid and Berlin versions, current scholarly consensus thinks it is more likely that all are based on a lost Rogier prototype, subsequent to the central panel of the Miraflores Triptych, although the autograph Brussels picture is almost certainly the earliest of the known versions, dating from sometime after 1441.  The proportions and dimensions of the Virgin and Christ figure group hardly differs in all the versions, which makes it plausible that a tracing was used as the basis for all of them.  The Berlin version is likely to be the latest in date: tree-ring analysis suggesting that it was painted well past 1500.7  The Prado version is likely to be rather earlier.  

Dendrochronology of the two planks comprising the panel of the London version suggests a felling date of 1455 or after, with an earliest likely date of use around 1465.8 The single plank of Baltic oak comprising the panel of the present picture is much earlier in date, so much so that it is of little help in dating the painting.  According to a tree-ring analysis conducted by Ian Tyers, the outermost hardwood ring dates from 1399, giving a likely felling date of after circa 1407.9  There is no evidence, for example from X-Rays, suggesting that the panel had been used for another purpose in the interim, but it is most unlikely that the present painting pre-dates Rogier’s Brussels panel, and it is fairly unlikely to have been painted during Rogier’s lifetime.  Infra-red imaging (see fig. 4) reveals abundant under-drawing which is strongly indicative of a copied or transferred design in the parts that correspond to the Brussels picture, but which is virtually absent in the passages that are independent of it, such as the landscape.10  It is interesting to note that some of the under-drawing of the Brussels painting is similar to that in the present work and speaks for a transferred design, although it is worked up in greater, freer detail.11  

The present picture is most likely to have been painted by an artist or artists who were working within Rogier van der Weyden’s posthumous workshop, or who had access to his designs, probably in the 1470s or 80s, but possibly as late as 1500.  As Cyril Stroo & Syfer-d’Olne observed, it is “an important formal link between the Brussels Pietà and the Madrid and Berlin versions, one which typifies the afterlife of Rogier van der Weyden’s Pietà compositions.”12

Discussion here has been limited to variants that have at one time or other been associated with Rogier van der Weyden.  Further copies are known, including one in the Nicola Leotta collection in Palermo, which derives from the London version and others in the Rademaker collection in The Hague and the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp, which depend on the Brussels composition.13  

The present picture was never seen by Friedländer who was the first to publish it.  It was probably brought to his attention by Wilhelm von Bode, who saw it in Berlin in 1912.14  In 1983 it was examined at IRPA in Brussels, apparently at the suggestion of Friedländer’s posthumous editor, Nicole Veronée Verhaegen.  At that time the first IRR imaging and dendrochronology were carried out, the latter by Josef Vynckier.15

There are several discrepencies in the description and measurements between the present work and the one described in the Farnese and Mazzetti-Marsella inventories, although this is likely to be the work described in the latter, since it has passed directly from the Mazzetti-Marsella family by inheritance to the prsent owners.  The upper edge of the present panel is clearly not original, and it appears to have been reduced in size, perhaps where old woodworm, of which there is clear evidence, eroded a panel join.  If so, its original dimensions would imply a format comparable to the Madrid and Prado upright type. 

1.  See De Vos under Literature, 1999, pp. 226-233, no. 12, reproduced, as circa 1442-5.
2.  Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, inv. 3515, oil on oak panel, 32.5 by 47.2 cm.; see Véronique Bücken, under Literature, 2013, p. 105, no. 2, reproduced.
3.   London, National Gallery, inv. NG 6265, oil with some egg tempera on oak panel, 37 by 46.7 cm.; see Campbell under Literature, 1998, pp. 440-446, reproduced.
4. Madrid, Prado,  inv. 2540, oil on panel, 47 by 35 cm.; Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, inv. 526A, oil on panel, 46 by 33 cm.; See Cyril Stroo under Literature, 2009, pp. 506-7, reproduced figs. 74.2 and 74.3.
5.   See under Literature, p. 24.
6.   These dimensions are given by Bertini; see under Literature.
7.  Kind communication of Valentine Hendricks by email.
8.  Campbell, op. cit., p. 444.
9.   Dendrochronology Consultancy Ltd, Report 643, available on request.
10.   Infra-red imaging and X-Rays conducted by Art Access Research are available on request.
11.   Infra-red imaging reproduced in Verougstraete & Schoute, 1997, p. 23, fig. 7.
12.  See under Literature, 1996, p. 109.
13.  See Campbell, op. cit., pp. 445-6, reproduced p. 444, fig. 3, and Stroo, op. cit, 2009, p. 507.  Verougstraete & Schoute reproduce a further version, in Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, that is clearly well past 1500 in date; op. cit., p. 25, reproduced fig. 12.
14.  Following inspection in the original, Von Bode confirmed his view that it is one of four replicas of the Rogier composition, of which one other, the Brussels version, he considered autograph, in a letter to Conte Antonio Mangoni di Santo Stefano dated 16th June 1912.  
15   His findings were published by Stroo & Syfer-d’Olne, 1996, pp. 101, 112.  Details of the infra-red imaging done at I.R.PA. in 1983 were published by Verougstraete & Stroo; see n.9 above.