Lot 51
  • 51

South Netherlandish or German, probably Dinant or Nuremberg, late 15th century

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Kapellenkrone (Tabernacle Chandelier)
  • copper alloy, with a central iron rod and metal pins
  • South Netherlandish or German, probably Dinant or Nuremberg, late 15th century
seven of the eight arms of the lower tier numbered 1 to 7 using a ring and dot numeric system, the supporting slots affixed to the matrix numbered correspondingly


Private collection, Franconia, Germany, by 1982;
the present owner


H. P. Lockner, 'Ein gotischer Tabernakelkronleuchter. Aufbau und Konstruktion', Kunst und Antiquitäten, Zeitschrift für Kunstfeunde, Sammler und Museen, 1982, no. 5. pp. 47-57


Overall the chandelier is in good condition with dirt and wear to the surface consistent with age. There are some areas of minor greening, notably to some of the drip-pans and candleholders. There is also oxidation visible in areas, notably to the interior seen through the lion's mouth and to the central iron rod running through the tabernacle. There are small nicks and abrasions to the chandelier. There are some small casting flaws. There is particular dirt to the crevices and groundplate. As is to be expected with metalwork of this age and complexity, certain elements have been replaced or reattached at different stages in the history of the object. Five of the fourteen sockets are definitely contemporary and ten of the fourteen drip-pans are original. Four of the six smaller arms are likely to have been replaced (including sockets and drip-pans). One of the castellated elements affixed to the canopy of the tabernacle (above the Virgin) is probably replaced (it is more reddish in colour than the others), and the stepped base on which the Virgin stands may also be a replacement. On one of the larger arms one of the leafs is separately cast and is pinned on. Several of the drip-pans and sockets were reattached with solder. There are also traces of solder in the tabernacle, most notably at the little metal struts lining the outside of the spire. One of these struts is lost. The finials of three of the pillars surrounding the Virgin are replaced and joints are visible; on one of these pillars the joints have detached and the pillar is slightly loose. There is a loss to the top of one of the original finials on another of the pillars. There is a hole (probably for a plug) in the ground plate of the tabernacle and there are some slight stable fissures. There are a few slightly visible original plugs. The attribute in the Virgin's proper left hand is lost, the sceptre in her right hand is a little loose, and she has some small lacunae. A number of the copper and metal pins are likely to be replacements. There are a few small drilled holes in the conical bottom section of the tabernacle. The beautiful punchwork decoration adorning this area is a little faint in places. The ring from the lion’s mouth at the bottom of the tabernacle is lost and there is a dent in his mane behind his left ear. The suspension chain and hook are likely to be of a later date.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This magnificent Gothic chandelier dates to the closing decades of the 15th century. It was probably made in either Dinant, in the Southern Netherlands, or Nuremberg, in Southern Germany, two of the leading centres for metalwork production in Europe at the time. Impressive, multi-tiered, chandeliers were the preserve of the wealthiest private citizens, serving as signifiers of taste and prestige. Tantalisingly, the present chandelier finds a direct parallel in Jan van Eyck's celebrated oil painting The Arnolfini Portrait in the National Gallery, London (dated 1434; inv. no. NG186) (fig. 1). The centrepiece of Van Eyck's interior is a chandelier very like the present example, with arms sprouting leaves, and a lion mask below the matrix. Few 15th-century chandeliers of this scale survive, being found only in leading museums and a number of private collections. The present example is consequently very rare.

The chandelier is composed around a central matrix of architectural form, following the design of a defensive tower or church spire. Running vertically through the centre of the matrix is an iron rod, which serves as the skeleton of the object. The rod terminates in an orb, around which the bottom of the matrix is constructed using rivets; these inner workings are concealed by the beautifully cast lion mask. As is outlined by Lockner, who provides a full analysis of the facture of the chandelier, this construction is typical of early chandeliers, fading out in the 16th century; it consequently affirms the 15th-century date of the object (Lockner, op. cit., pp. 47-48). The architectural structure or tabernacle, which is built up around the rod, is composed of multiple smaller components; in fact, according to Lockner, the entire chandelier is made up of some 92 individual elements (op. cit., p. 52). At the centre of the tabernacle stands a small statuette of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven. The statuette is hollow, allowing the iron rod to pass through her. Affixed to the tabernacle are two tiers of arms, fitted with candleholders and drip-pans: a larger tier of 8 arms at the bottom and a smaller tier of 6 arms above. The chandelier is suspended from a hook connected to the finial at the top, which is adorned with an elaborate Gothic cross flower. As is to be expected with an object of this age and complexity, some of the elements are replaced, notably the candleholders without windows and the less ornate drip-pans. The scale of the whole ensemble is nevertheless breathtaking, and would create a dazzling effect once illuminated.

There is a near-identical chandelier of the same dimensions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. 1975.1.1422). This example comes from the Robert Lehman Collection and was acquired by Philip Lehman from Lord Duveen in 1917; it was bought by Duveen from a Frenchman named Maurice Chabrières-Arlès and had previously been in the collection of Jean-Baptiste Carrand (1792-1871). The chandelier is catalogued as Southern Netherlands, possibly Dinant, circa 1450-70. It seems likely that the Metropolitan chandelier was made by the same workshop. However, it should be noted that there are some differences. Unlike the present example, the candleholders are without windows and the drip-pans are reversed, recalling coronets. Thanks to Jan van Eyck's astonishing realism, we know that the drip-pans are the correct way round in the present chandelier, and the wrong way round in the Metropolitan example. However, these differences are easily explained, the drip-pans may have been reversed in the Metropolitan chandelier, and the candleholders simply replaced, as often happened. There is one final key difference. The present chandelier is distinguished by beautifully delicate arabesques applied to the lower finial using the punchwork technique. In contrast, the Metropolitan finial is undecorated. Nevertheless, the correspondences between the two chandeliers are otherwise very close, and even extend to the figure of the Virgin, which is cast from the same model.

Successful models were reproduced by workshops during the 15th-century. Another relevant example is the chandelier in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. 2398-1855) which is thought to have been made in Germany between 1480 and 1520. This compares well with the present example in sporting a very similar lower finial, articulated with festoons running along the vertical skeletal borders. As in the present example, some of the candleholders have clearly been replaced, though, in this case, with spigots. Interestingly, however, the model is the same as another very fine chandelier in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. 47.101.50a, b), which is on display in The Cloisters. The Museum has catalogued this example as South Netherlandish, possibly Dinant, late 15th century. It is surmounted with an angel, which is conceived in a very similar manner to the present Virgin, with analagous oblong eyes. The differences in cataloguing between the V&A and Metropolitan chandeliers, however, highlights the complexity of the history surrounding these important early objects, as well as the currently limited scholarship on them. It seems likely that all of the chandeliers mentioned originate from a single centre of production, as they all exhibit the same characteristic trefoil leaves branching out from the arms.

Chandeliers of this type appear in 15th-century Netherlandish art, most notably in The Arnolfini Portrait, but also in other paintings, such as Petrus Christus' Virgin and Child in an Interior in the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Kansas City (inv. no. 65.51). What is interesting in regards to The Arnolfini Portrait  is that, according to Lockner (op. cit.) chandeliers were often given as wedding gifts. The example in Van Eyck's picture may, therefore, be an expensive present to celebrate the union represented. As well as being employed to represent sumptuous or heavenly interiors, such chandeliers were frequently used for the glorification of God, and were placed in churches. In 1495, the German traveller Dr Jerome Munzer described over four hundred such chandeliers of differing sizes in Antwerp Cathedral; the sight must have been spectacular. Chandeliers such as the present example consequently had a clear association with the Low Countries and so it seems only natural that their centre of production would have been local. That the present chandelier could be Netherlandish is indicated by the presence of the characteristic leaves, which are also clearly present in Van Eyck's scene. Moreover, the statuette of the Virgin has notable similarities with late 15th-century Netherlandish figures; see, for example, the statuettes angels in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (inv. nos. N.M. 9545g and 9546g).

However, when the present chandelier was published by Lockner in 1982, he argued for a Nuremberg origin, citing the very thin and fine casting, which is consistent with Nuremberg work. Lockner also found a comparable for the elegant punchwork decoration on the lower finial in a choir lectern by Hans Wurzelbauer in the Mainkränkisches Museum, Würzburg, dating to 1644 (Lockner, op. cit., pp. 54-55). It is also the case that the characterful lion mask recalls the faces of lion aquamanilia made in Nuremberg, such as the example dating to circa 1400 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. no. 1994.244).

Dinant and Nuremberg were two of the foremost centres for metalwork in the 15th century. The town of Dinant, situated on the river Meuse in modern Belgium, was famed for its brass ware, termed dinanderie. Significantly, in 1466, many of the town's craftsmen were forced to flee to cities including Nuremberg, when it was sacked by Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Objects made in Nuremberg thenceforth in the Dinant style are likewise often referred to as dinanderie. The relationship between the two centres was consequently very close and it remains difficult to claim with certainty that a particular dinanderie object was made in one or the other city.


E. Meyer, 'Der gotische Kronleuchter in Stans', Festschrift Hans R. Hahnloser, 1961, S. 152, pp. 151-184; O. ter Kuile, Koper & Bronz, cat. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1986, pp. 122-125, 150-151, nos. 170-172, 197-199; N. Netzer, Catalogue of Medieval Objects. Metalwork, cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 1991, pp. 128-129, no. 44; P. Barnet and P. Dandridge, Lions, Dragons, and other Beasts. Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table, exh. cat. Bard Graduate Center, New Haven and London, 2006, pp. 142-143, no. 20

The present chandelier is accompanied by an energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence analysis (EDXRFA) report completed by Prof. Dr. Ernst-Ludwig Richter on 15 August 2009 stating that 'the results of samples 1-6 [from the chandelier] are entirely consistent with a late medieval origin of these parts of the chandelier'. It adds that the presence of certain replacements, which are consistent with a 19th or 20th century origin, 'support its authenticity'.

This analysis was confirmed by Dr Peter Northover of the University of Oxford, who examined the chandelier and the alloys used on 1 May 2014 and is in the process of preparing a written metallurgy report on the object.