Lot 6
  • 6

German, Bavaria, probably Nuremberg, circa 1540-1560

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Relief with the Crucifixion
  • mottled yellow and pink limestone, known as Rotmarmor
  • German, Bavaria, probably Nuremberg, circa 1540-1560


By repute Pope Pius VII, Barnaba Niccolò Maria Luigi Chiaramonti, Rome;
By whom given to Dom Pedro José Vito de Menezes, 8th Count of Cantanhede and 6th Marquis of Marialva, Lisbon, 1817;
By descent to his sister, Dona Maria do Carmo de Menezes, Marquise de Loulé, and Dom Agostinho de Mendoça Rolim de Moura Barreto, 1st Marquis of Loulé and 8th Count of Vale de Reis, Lisbon, 1823-1824;
By descent to Dom Nuno de Mendoça de Moura Barreto, 1st Duke of Loulé, and H.R.H. Dona Ana de Jesus Maria de Bragança de Bourbon, Infanta of Portugal, 1824-1875;
On loan to the Museum of the Royal Association of Portuguese Architects and Archeologists, Convento do Carmo, Lisbon, 1868-1927;
Returned to Dona Maria Domingas José de Mendoça, 3rd Duchess of Loulé, 1927;
and thence by family descent to the present owners.


Museu da Associação dos Architectos Civis e Archeologos Portuguezes (Museu do Carmo), Lisbon, on loan 1868-1927;

Exposição Retrospectiva de Arte Ornamental Portuguesa e Espanhola, Palácio Alvor, Lisbon, 1882, Sala J, cat. nr. 131.


Museu da Real Associação dos Architectos Civis e Archeologos Portuguezes, Lisbon, 1876, p. 42, no. 581 (as designed by Albrecht Dürer);

M. M. Bordallo Pinheiro, Boletim de architectura e de archeologia da Real Associação dos Architectos Civis e Archeologos Portuguezes, Lisbon, 1880, unpaginated (as influenced by Perugino and Raphael);

Catalogo Illustrado da Exposição Retrospectiva de Arte Ornamental Portuguesa e Espanhola, Palácio Alvor, Lisbon, Imprensa Nacional, 1882, cat. nr. 131.

‘O nosso património artístico. Um precioso baixo-relevo que está em depósito no Museu do Carmo vai ser restituído dos seus proprietários’, unknown newspaper, 1 June 1927.


Overall the condition of the relief is good with wear and some dirt to the surface consistent with age. There are several chips to the edges of the relief, including along the lower edge, above the bad thief and at the top corner. There are smaller chips to the hat of the standing figure in the foreground on the right and there is some slight rubbing to high points such as the swooning Virgin's face and the foot of Saint John on her left, possibly due to touching. There are some areas of scratching, including to the lower edge, and the thighs of the figures in the foreground. There is an areas of white pitting along the lower edge. The outer edge is tinted reddish due to an old cloth mount. The proper right foot of Christ was reattached or possibly carved separately originally. The material is naturally subtly veined throughout in colours ranging from off-white to ochre to pink as well as with jagged dark grey hairlines, some of which are slightly open but stable.
"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 is an exceptionally rare example of a large scale German Renaissance relief in the fine grained limestone known as Rotmarmor. Details such as the rearing horse and its rider, the swooning Virgin, and the seated child alongside the gallant male figure are rendered with extraordinary sensitivity, illustrating the often overlooked achievements of South German post-Reformation sculptors. The relief is heavily influenced by the most important sculptor of the epoch, Hans Daucher, combining numerous elements of his work and other major sculptors of his generation into a wonderfully delineated and lucidly arranged whole. Surprisingly, the Crucifixion came into the possession of a prominent Portuguese nobleman in the early 19th century, the 6th Marquis of Marialva, whose descendants have looked after it for seven generations.

German Sculpture of the later Renaissance
South German sixteenth-century sculpture that post-dates the careers of Albrecht Dürer, Veit Stoss, and Tilman Riemenschneider has long been frowned upon by art historians and collectors alike. As outlined by Georg Dehio in his thunderous 1914 essay ‘The crisis in German art in the sixteenth century’, it was believed that the onset of the Reformation destroyed the progress of the distinctly German style that had peaked between 1490 and 1520 and halted the production of anything of importance after 1530 (op. cit.; see Chipps Smith, op. cit., p. 5). It is true that the reformers dismantled and destroyed numerous major altarpieces in bouts of iconoclastic fury and put a halt to the explosion of Catholic commissions that had fed the development of Late Gothic sculpture in previous decades. This fragmented Germany’s artistic patrimony and forced a great number of sculptors that had relied on assignments from the Church out of business. As such, the sculptural output shrank considerably and was far less triumphant than the great altarpieces of Stoss and Riemenschneider. On the other hand, the sculptors that did manage to cling on developed a fresh language of sculpture: the Italian High Renaissance was absorbed, secular subjects and portraits took a flight, the ever-changing Protestant attitude to religious images yielded complex programmes of decoration in private chapels and churches alike, and pockets of wealthy Catholics feverishly commissioned new sculpture to underline their religion’s pre-eminence. Major achievements include Albrecht von Brandburg’s Neue Stift at Halle, the chapel that several South German artists erected for Johann Friedrich, Elector of Saxony, at Schloss Hartenfeld in Torgau in the early 1540s, the cenotaph of Maximilian I in Innsbruck that took most of the century to complete, the fountains cast by the Wurzelbauer and Labenwolf workshops between 1540 and 1590, the astonishing portraits by Johann Gregor van der Schardt, and the sophisticated school of relief sculpture that worked in rare, fine-grained local stones from which this extraordinarily large and beautifully composed carving stems.

The beginnings of relief sculpture in sixteenth-century Germany
Reliefs are predominant in German post-Reformation sculpture. In essence the interest in strong outlines and exquisite details that characterise these reliefs was developed in Late Gothic woodcuts by Dürer and Altdorfer and, to a lesser extent, wood sculpture. Hans Daucher (1485-1538) was among the first to inventively translate this style into small stone reliefs. Daucher worked in Augsburg and decided to work independently from his father Adolf at the time of the Imperial diet of 1518, which led to an enormous influx of commissions from visiting and local aristocrats. In the decade following the diet, Daucher revolutionised and commoditised high-end portrait sculpture with his half-length portrait roundels of Philipp and Ottheinrich, Counts Palatine, and two reliefs of Emperor Charles V on horseback, all in Solnhofen stone (fig. 1; Schlossmuseum, Berchtesgaden; Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck; and Musée du Louvre, Paris, respectively). For religious and mythological scenes he used the prints of Albrecht Dürer and Hans Burgkmair and often modernised them by placing the figures in architectural settings decorated with North Italian Renaissance motifs. The small reliefs are of such technical virtuosity that they are likely to have served as conversation pieces for collectors instead of having a purely religious or commemorative function. Despite his success in the early 1520s Daucher barely made it past the height of the Reformation, which was chaotic and often extremely absolute in Augsburg. In 1528, his wife Susanna was arrested together with 100 other Anabaptists and seems to have been deported in the following year. Daucher is recorded as a sculptor afterwards, but this event appears to have scuppered the rest of his career.

Instead, the baton passed to Victor Kayser (1502-1552/1553), who was active in Augsburg around 1525-1540 but whose life is poorly documented otherwise. Kayser experimented with more cramped spaces and introduced anguished figures with angular facial features and drapery. Only about ten works by Kayser survive of which only Susanna and the Elders and Abraham and Melchisedek are documented works (both Skulpturengalerie, Berlin, inv. no. 2004). The small production and relative obscurity of Kayser may be illustrative of the uncertain climate in Augsburg at the time. 

Elsewhere, life for sculptors was better. In Eichstätt, for example, Loy Hering (1485-1554) and his sons Martin (1515-1560) and Thomas (1510-1549) profited from the successive patronage of three bishops who successfully protected the city against the Protestants for the entire first half of the sixteenth century. As such, Hering's workshop could confidently solicit the patronage of clerics and nobility from all over Germany and Austria, resulting in at least 133 stone altars, tabernacles, epitaphs and tombs produced by the workshop in Loy's time alone (Chipps Smith, op. cit., p. 57). Interestingly, this security seems to have stopped Loy Hering from being as innovative as Daucher or Kayser. Faced with Protestant reforms elsewhere, his Catholic patrons possibly sought to protect the Catholic tradition. His son Thomas pushed the envelope slightly further: his mythological decorations of the Italian Hall in the residence of the Dukes of Bavaria in Landshut from the 1540s are both more original and more dynamic than his father's work.

Nuremberg provided a different kind of stable environment in the sixteenth century. As opposed to Augsburg, the response to the Reformation there was swift and without exception. All Catholic churches and monasteries were suppressed upon the adoption of Lutheranism as the city’s faith in 1525 and the city council managed to prevent theft and destruction of Catholic property by allowing these institutions to sell their buildings and objects (Chipps Smith, op.cit., pp. 37-38). Sculptors in Nuremberg had to adapt to this situation, limiting themselves to Protestant patronage and secular decorations. Peter Vischer's (1460-1529) thriving metalwork business was ideally suited to this type of market. It remained successful as it passed to his descendants, among which were his sons Peter the Younger (1487-1528), Hans (1489-1550), and his grandson Jörg (1522-1592). The variety of their output - which included not only reliefs but also candelabra, grates, and Germany's earliest bronze statuettes - and Nuremberg's staunch protection of its Rotmetal industry ensured a steady stream of work. The relief sculpture of Peter the Younger and Hans consists mainly of large bronze epitaphs populated by a strictly organised, small numbers of figures and in which depth of field is attained by imposing, but seldom elaborately decorated, foreshortened architecture. This scheme is repeated in Hans Vischer's overdoor relief of Christ and the Canaanite Woman made in 1543 for entrance to the Schlosskapelle at Neuburg and der Donau. This relief, now in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich (inv. no. R555), shows how religious imagery could be appropriated by the Protestants. The story of the Canaanite woman, whose daughter is exorcised by Christ because of her unwavering faith, stresses the importance of persevering in one's faith, a major theme in Luther's lectures. The image therefore served as a moralising reminder for those entering and exiting the chapel rather than an idol (fig. 3).

Important sculptors from the same generation as Daucher, Kayser, and the Hering and Vischer families include Hans Ässlinger (active 1535-1567), Peter Flötner (circa 1485-1546), Hans Kels (1480-1559) and his son Hans Kels the Younger (circa 1508-1565), Hans Schwarz (1492- late 1520s), and Christoph Walther I (active 1518-1546). The success of Netherlandish and Italian immigrants such as Alexander Colin (circa 1526-1612) from Malines in the second half of the sixteenth century illustrates the international character of German sculpture during that period.

The Marialva Crucifixion and its influences
The influence of Hans Daucher and the rest of the generation of sculptors active in South Germany prior to the Reformation on the Crucifixion is unmistakable. The use of Renaissance architecture to provide a stage and lend depth of field to the scene was pioneered by Daucher in Germany in such reliefs as the Virgin and Child with angels now in the Maximilianmuseum in Augsburg (illustrated in Chipps Smith, op.cit., fig. 235). The fantasy architecture in the background, which is simultaneously a brilliant exploration of linear perspective in relief sculpture, is a regular feature in reliefs of Solnhofen stone. Note, for example, the row of buildings preceded by an unfinished arch in Victor Kayser's Holy Family in the Louvre (inv. no. M.R.1730).

Looking at the details from left to right, the influence of the earlier generation of relief sculptors becomes clearer: the figure calmly controlling his rearing horse on the left is clearly taken from Daucher's famous portrait of Charles V on horseback in the Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck (fig. 1). Victor Kayser's linear treatment of veils and the foreshortening of the angular facial features of the mourning female figures as seen on the left hand side of Christ taking leave of his Mother in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (inv. no. 28/271) are repeated in the swooning Virgin and her attendants in the centre of the Crucifixion. Frolicking children such as the one on the lower right are omnipresent in the foreground of both secular and religious reliefs by Daucher and his contemporaries. The somewhat bored-looking child on the lower right was probably inspired by the unruly child on the lower right side of Hans Leinberger's Crucifixion from 1516 in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (inv. no. R171). Interestingly, the motif of a difficult child was more often recycled by following generations: Peter Dell the Elder included one in his Crucifixion in the Skulpturengalerie in Berlin from circa 1525-1530 (see Chipps Smith, op.cit., fig. 41). The pose of the child, in turn, is taken from one of the putti generally given to Daucher on the choir screen in the Fugger Chapel, Augsburg (fig. 2). Lastly, it is important to note the resemblance of the men to the right of the scene to contemporary medals. Many sixteenth-century sculptors, including Hans Daucher, relied on medals to produce likenesses of noblemen in relief sculpture (Chipps Smith, op. cit., p. 338), whilst other sculptors, such as Hans Schwartz, worked in both media. The face of the male figure that wraps a cloak around his fine armour in the foreground could have been inspired by a portrait such as that of Emperor Charles V on the reverse of Hans Reinhardt's 1537 portrait medal.

There are, however, also clear differences between the Crucifixion and the work of Daucher, Kaiser, and other relief sculptors of the generation that came to the fore prior to the Reformation. The older generation's compositions tend to be less formal and more crowded. Drapery schemes are less classical, relying instead on the elaborate examples disseminated by Albrecht Dürer and Martin Schongauer. The extensive output of the Hering family from Eichstätt illustrates this evolution: despite some flourishes of Gothic drapery, the 1528 Epitaph of Erich I and his two wives in Rotmarmor by Loy Hering in the St. Blasius Church in Hannoversch Münden uses very similar unadorned architecture to frame a neatly organised group of figures (see Chipps Smith, op.cit., fig. 101). The Judgment of Paris by Loy's son Thomas from circa 1535 also shows the same clean spatial arrangement as the present relief despite retaining the ornamentation and body types of Dürer's stylistic language (Chipps Smith, op.cit., fig. 226). The Hering dynasty must have been of some influence to the sculptor of the Crucifixion though: the elaborate mane of a horse in Thomas Hering’s Judgement of Paris is close to the two horses here. Note also the resemblance between the previously discussed noble figure on the lower right and the marshal in the Epitaph of Konrad von Thüngen by Loy Hering from circa 1540 (Chipps Smith, op. cit., fig. 118). 

The clothing of the figures in the present Crucifixion is rendered by an interchange of large plains under which the shape of the body of the figures is visible, with sharply delineated and calmly undulating folds and hems. These folds lend a weight to the drapery that is far removed of the tour-de-force passages of drapery of Dürer and his generation. This treatment of the clothing is approached on several occasions in the reliefs of Hans Vischer of Nuremberg. The figures in the aforementioned large bronze relief of Christ and the Canaanite woman from 1543 are not only similarly draped; the faces, attitudes of the agonising women, the hemispherical curls that make up the beards of the men, and the single bearded figure staring straight out at the onlooker all compare well to the Crucifixion (fig. 3). Vischer's relief too is of a simple symmetrical design and framed in a single Renaissance arch with two putti in the spandrels above. Foreshortened architecture in the background adds monumentality and depth to the scene. 

The geographical proximity of the sculptors responsible for the comparisons outlined above firmly places the Crucifixion in Northern Bavaria, with the remarkable resemblance to Hans Vischer's work pointing to Nuremberg. The use of Rotmarmor is not common, but the Hering workshop from nearby Eichstätt used it at times, including for the Epitaph of Erich I cited above, whilst the Nuremberg-based sculptor Ludwig Krug (1488-1529) used the material for a relief of Adam and Eve after Dürer in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (see Chipps Smith, op.cit., fig. 248).

The original location of the Marialva Crucifixion
Despite the resemblance between portable reliefs, epitaphs, and markers such as Hans Vischer’s Christ and the Canaanite Woman, it is likely that the Crucifixion stems from a different ensemble. Even though Calvin and Karlstadt rejected the use of the Crucifix altogether, Crucifixion scenes were not only tolerated by Martin Luther and his followers but used as important didactic images, often juxtaposed with the Old Testament story of Moses and the Brazen Serpent (Chipps Smith, op.cit., p. 85). As at any point in Christian art history, reliefs of the Crucifixion were therefore at the centre of altarpieces, including that by Martin Hering in the Palace Chapel at Neuberg an der Donau (1540-1542) or the Chapel at Schloss Hartenfels by a Netherlandish artist (circa 1540-1544). The reliefs were generally set in classicising Renaissance architecture with a protruding frame and columns on either side further assisting the onlooker in submerging into the scene. More unusually shaped altarpieces, such as Hans Daucher’s magnificent altarpiece for the Catholic Fugger Chapel in Augsburg, include similarly proportioned stone reliefs with scenes from the Life of Christ placed alongside each other to form an antependium. Another object which regularly featured reliefs of the Crucifixion, were the pulpits. Given the emphasis on the spoken word in the Protestant Church, pulpits had special significance. Several grand examples were therefore erected in the 16th century, particularly in the third quarter. The pulpit installed around 1555 and 1560 in Schleswig cathedral, the sandstone pulpit in the chapel of Celle Palace of 1565 by an unknown artist, and Hanns Ruprecht Hoffmann’s (1543-1616) pulpit for Trier Cathedral that dates between 1569 and 1572 are all decorated with reliefs of the Crucifixion of a size comparable to our Crucifixion (Chipps Smith, op.cit., figs. 71, 72, and 79). 

The present relief could have been removed from its original setting on numerous occasions before it appeared in the collection of the 6th Marquis of Marialva in 1817, but chances are that it was taken shortly after being made. The Reformation kept the interiors of many churches and chapels in a constant state of upheaval throughout the sixteenth century. Dismembered Catholic altarpieces were sold from Nuremberg as late as 1543 (Chipps-Smith, op.cit., p.38) whilst in Augsburg, churches converted to Protestantism between 1534 and 1537 reverted to Catholic use from 1548 onwards, when a restitution edict was agreed between the city and the cardinal-bishop.  Despite the refitting of numerous churches the prince-cardinal himself ensured that any objects that could be considered idols were removed from Augsburg afterwards (Chipps-Smith, op.cit., pp. 40-41). The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 and the conclusion of the Council of Trent ten years later each caused further renovations of the churches of Germany.

The Crucifixion in Portugal
By family tradition the present relief was a given by Pope Pius VII to Dom Pedro José Vito de Menezes , the 6th Marquis of Marialva, in 1817, for services rendered during his time as the Portuguese Ambassador in France. The Marquis often defended the interests of the Pope and the Holy See during his time at the courts of Napoleon and Louis XVIII and was therefore held in high regard by the Catholic community (fig. 4; Bordallo Pinheiro, op.cit.). Significantly, the Marquis was also Ambassador Extraordinary to the Court in Vienna in 1817, where he charged with the preparations of the celebrations of the marriage Prince Pedro of Portugal and Leopoldina, the Archduchess of Austria. The 6th Marquis of Marialva came from one of the three foremost noble families in Portugal.  According to Beckford the family was granted a special status during the Marquis de Pombal’s persecution of the Portuguese high nobility. The King told Pombal: ‘Act as you judge wisest with my nobility but beware how you interfere with the Marquis of Marialva’ (quoted in Delaforce, op.cit., p. 331). Another of Beckford’s accounts paints an exotic picture of the palace of the 5th Marquis de Marialva: ’swarms of musicians, poets, bull-fighters, grooms, monks, dwarfs, and children of both sexes, fantastically dressed’ (ibid., p. 331). The family collection contained an extraordinary number of paintings including ‘many capital works by Rubens and the first Masters’ (ibid., p. 332). Descriptions of further properties owned by the family speak of extraordinary chinoiserie decorations by Pillement and a grand arch built to impress the Prince and Princess of Brazil in 1802 among other marvels. The 6th Marquis is remembered as a patron of contemporary artists and for the impressive collection he gathered in Paris. His broad collection included a Raphael acquired in Vienna and works by Rembrandt, Van Ruysdael, Greuze, and Vernet. Marialva intended to bring the collection back to Portugal for the education of its people, but most of the group was auctioned in Paris upon the Marquis’ death in 1824 (ibid., p. 332).

The Crucifixion was thankfully not dispersed and passed to Dom Nuno de Mendoça de Moura Barreto, the 1st Duke of Loulé (1804-1875) and his wife, the daughter of King Dom João VI. The Duke was an important statesman, serving as prime-minister under Kings Dom Pedro V and Dom Luis I. His interest in the arts is mainly illustrated by his induction in the Royal Association of Portuguese Architects and Archeologists as its first amateur member in 1864. Four years later he lent the present relief to this institution for display in its museum in the medieval Carmo Convent, now known as the Museu Arqueológico do Carmo, and it was returned to the Loulé family in June 1927.  


G. Dehio, ‘Die Krisis der deutschen Kunst im Sechzehnten Jahrhundert’, Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 12, 1914, pp. 1-16; E.F. Bange, La piccola scultura in legno e pietra del Rinascimento tedesco, Milan, 1936, pls. 4, 5 ,8, 9, 22, 23, 51, and 109; T. Müller, Die Bildwerke in Holz, Ton und Stein von der Mitte des XVI. Jahrhunderts, cat. Bayerischen Nationalmuseums, Munich, 1959, no. 286; Die Renaissance im deutschen Südwesten zwischen Reformation und Dreissigjährigem Krieg, exh. cat. Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, 1986, vol. II, pp. 549-552, and p. 593, no. K50; J. Chipps Smith, German sculpture of the later Renaissance c. 1520-1580. Art in an age of uncertainty, Princeton, 1994; A. Delaforce, Art and patronage in eighteenth-century Portugal, Cambridge, 2002