Lot 12
  • 12

Antwerp School, circa 1520

150,000 - 200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Antwerp School, circa 1520
  • The Mass of St. Gregory
  • oil on panel


The following condition report has been provided by Karen Thomas of Thomas Art Conservation LLC., 336 West 37th Street, Suite 830, New York, NY 10018, 212-564-4024, info@thomasartconservation.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting is in excellent condition and recently restored. Slight thinning of the glazes has lessened the impact of the varied tonality of the floor tiles. Mild cupping in the paint film is the result of incremental shrinkage of the wood support. A slight disturbance in the surface near the candle flame appears to be the result of an old cleaning damage. The support has an extremely mild lateral convex warp.
"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 small panel presents an interpretation of The Mass of St. Gregory that was developed and became popular in northern Europe in the early decades of the 16th century.   Pope Gregory I (circa 540 – 604) was disturbed that one of his congregants did not believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation and prayed for a sign that would convince her. In response, a vision of Christ in the form of the Man of Sorrows appeared on the altar at which he was praying.  By the early 15th century, it was widely represented in manuscript illumination with Gregory, accompanied by a cardinal and an acolyte, kneeling in front of the altar.  Here the scene is expanded and there are seven additional religious figures as well as two secular observers, making the event more public and giving it greater weight.

Albrecht Dürer had treated the scene similarly a little earlier in the century, in a woodcut dated 1511.  We know, as well, of a painting of The Mass of St. Gregory, commissioned from Michel Sittow for the convent of St. Brigitte near Reval in 1522, but have no description of the work.  However a larger painting (72 by 56 cm.) by Adriaen Isenbrandt (active circa 1510-1551), in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, is extremely close to the present work.  Both show a group of men crowding around the altar, though the painting by Isenbrandt has an additional kneeling figure in the lower left, between St. Gregory and the edge of the composition.  It also includes a kneeling man holding the papal crown, in much the same position as here, though he is a portlier figure based on Van Eyck's Man with a Pink.  There is, as well, another version of the subject from the Gallo Altarpiece, in the church of San Juan Bautista, Castrojeriz, by the Master of Castrojeriz, a northern artist working in Spain, probably from Bruges.1  It is similar in composition to the present work, though it does not include the man with the crown, and the figures are also alike, but the differences in scale (the panel is 99 by 43.5 cm.) complicate direct comparisons.

Considering the figure types alone, the present work seems closest to the Altarpiece of the Virgin and Child, now in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, attributed by Friedländer to the Master of the Female Half-Lengths.2  Unfortunately that artist's oeuvre has not been fully established.  

1.  See D. Martens, Peinture Flamande et goût Ibérique aux XVème et XVIème siècles, Bruxelles 2010, for a discussion of the artist and the altarpiece.  
2.  M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, revised edition, New York and Washington, D.C. 1975, vol. XII, Jan van Scorel and Pieter Coeck van Aelst, p. 96, no. 52, reproduced plate 32.