Lot 4
  • 4

Ambrosius Benson

300,000 - 500,000 USD
425,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Ambrosius Benson
  • Madonna and Child
  • oil on panel
  • 5 3/4  by 5 3/4  in.; 14.5 by 14.5 cm. 


Anonymous sale ("The Property of a Gentleman"), London, Sotheby's, 6 May 1925, lot 15, to Vick;
With Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd., London;
Edith Stanton Newberry, Detroit;
Thence by descent to John S. Newberry, Detroit, until 1957;
By whom given to the Grosse Pointe Memorial Church. 


London, Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd., 1926. 


Burlington Magazine, April 1925, page XVII;
G. Marlier, Ambrosius Benson, et la Peinture a Bruges au temps de Charles-Quint, Damme 1957, pp.116, 297, cat. no. 60;
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, The Antwerp Mannerists., vol. XI, Leiden 1974, p. 97, no. 260, reproduced plate 170.

Catalogue Note

Having been out of greater public view for the past century, this beautifully preserved Virgin and Child sheds great light onto the technique of Ambrosius Benson, one of the leading figures of the Northern Renaissance in Bruges. To a greater degree, the painting highlights the incredible collaborative nature within the small, but highly active artistic environment in that city in the first half of the sixteenth century.

A similarly composed and small scale Virgin Lactans was formerly with Albrecht Neuhaus, Würzburg, and later sold London, Christie’s, 6 December 2011, lot 1 (as Attributed to Benson). The subtle tilt of the Virgin’s softly drawn oval head in that work certainly echoes the same figure here, though the ultimate source for this work is likely Gerard David’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt (National Gallery, Washington D.C., inv. 1937.1.43), which is known in various versions of varying quality and condition. Peter van den Brink dates this picture to circa 1531 based on its close stylistic similarities with Benson’s own version of the Rest on the Flight (Groeninge Museum, Bruges).

Two works signed with the monogram ‘AB’ form the basis for all modern attributions to Benson1, though analysis of preparatory underdrawings have aided scholars immensely in understanding Benson's approach to painting, as well those of his immediate contemporaries. The drawing models for the preparatory ground layer of pictures were highly prized, largely for commercial reasons, as they allowed artists to repeat successful compositions in varying formats and sizes. The fundamental form of this Virgin, for example, can be found in numerous Benson type pictures, such as in his Crowned Virgin and Child (location unknown, see Friedländer, op. cit., fig. 260a). IRR examination of this panel (see fig. 1) shows a dual approach to the composition. A more freely handled landscape is employed, while the figures themselves appear more carefully articulated. No visible pouncing or clear tracing is readily visible, but Till-Holger Borchert has suggested that the artist may have used a non-carbon based medium, which would not appear under IRR, for the figures in this particular studio model.

The style of Benson developed in Bruges amidst a highly developed and collaborative artistic environment. He is recorded there as early as 1518, in which year he entered David’s studio, which functionally served as the training ground and source of inspiration for a plethora of painters who form part of a great generation of Bruges artists. In addition to his main competitor, Adriaen Isenbrandt, Benson rose to European prominence alongside a number of successful painters, including the miniaturist and illuminator Simon Bening, as well as Jan Provost, Albrecht Cornelis and Lancelot Blondeel, among others. In addition to the group of known artists, numerous others are known to have been active, a realization illustrated by the fact that from 1500 to 1523 (the year of David’s death), no less than sixty three people registered as free painters in the Bruges guild.2

Till-Holger Borchert, Peter van den Brink and Maximiliaan P.J. Martens all support a full attribution to Benson, based on first hand inspection. Maryan Ainsworth has suggested a slightly tentative attribution to a group of works collectively considered closest to Benson, also based on first hand inspection. We are grateful for their assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.

1. Altarpiece of St. Anthony of Padua in the Musées Royaux des Beaux ­Arts, Brussels; Holy Family formerly in the Groeningemuseum, Bruges.
2. J. Wilson, Painting in Bruges at the Close of the Middle Ages, University Park 1998, p 133.