Lot 13
  • 13

Ambrosius Benson

300,000 - 500,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Ambrosius Benson
  • The Lamentation
  • oil on oak panel, with a shaped top


C.F. Turner Esq., Spalding, England, 1951;
Art market, England, 1954;
Private collection, London, 1957;
Private collection, Switzerland;
Museum het Spaans Gouvernement, Maastricht , inv. no. 0279 (later renamed Museum aan het Vrijthof);
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 2010.


Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht , inv./cat.nr 5031 (on loan).


The Connoisseur, December 1951, p. 186 (as artist unknown);
G. Marlier, Ambrosius Benson et la peinture à Bruges au temps de Charles-Quint, Damme 1957, pp. 100, 294, cat. no. 47, reproduced plate XII.


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. Although this picture has been transferred from its original support to a thin, vertically grained wood panel, the paint layers are in very good condition. Note the level of detail that remains intact such as the delicate tears shed by several figures and the trails of dried blood on Christ's forehead. The relatively recent restoration is clearly visible under ultraviolet illumination. The most notable losses (restored) are those corresponding to the location of the vertical joins in the original wood panel. The left join travelled through Christ's chest, with losses extending the length of the picture. The right join ran through the figure holding Jesus' legs; here the losses extend from the top down through the man's head. Otherwise, retouching primarily addresses losses following the craquelure and abrasion in the sky and upper landscape. Mild cupping follows the pattern of aging cracks throughout the painting. The varnish is even and adequately saturates the picture.
"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

It is in Benson’s dynamic paintings on the theme of the Lamentation and the Carrying of Christ to the tomb, a theme which became something of an obsession to him, that we see the artist at his most characteristic; the subject allowed him to fully express himself through the characterisation of the figures, their humanity through their grief and their interaction with one another through movement and gesture. Here, the Virgin embraces her son tenderly while Nicodemus struggles to support the weight of the dead Christ, his knee buckling under the strain. Mary of Clopas gently wipes a tear from her eye as the Magdalene thrusts her arms upwards in sorrow, the two Marys expressing their grief in very different ways. The subject also permitted to Benson the fullest expression of his skills as both a painter of fabric and landscape: here we see perhaps the most imaginative backdrop of his entire oeuvre- a fantastical view of the city of Jerusalem, with a plethora of oriental domes, flat rooves and the dominant bulb atop the spherical building in the centre.

The circular arrangement of figures is, like much Netherlandish art, indebted to Rogier van Weyden, specifically to his now lost painting showing Christ carried to the tomb known today only through a copied drawing in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (which is, in turn, a variant of Rogier’s Descent from the Cross in the Prado).1 Making many changes along the way, Benson has transformed the overtly horizontal axis into a vertical arrangement simply by removing extraneous figures, turning one to look inwards rather than outwards and compressing them all into a tighter grouping. The figure of the Magdalene now overlaps the feet of Christ while her attendant and male companion behind are gone. Instead of turning away from Christ the striking figure of Mary of Clopas now looks into the composition, directly at Christ, becoming the right hand framing device to mirror John the Evangelist on the left, who is also dressed in red. Mary of Clopas however is not Rogerian, but seems rather to be borrowed and adapted from Gerard David’s Deposition in the Frick collection, New York.2 Overall Benson’s is a neat contemporary reinterpretation of what must have been a very well-known work of art, indeed Friedlander proposed that it might have been the same as the one Dürer admired in the Prinsenhof Chapel in Bruges.

In the centre of Rogier’s design is an angel providing discreet support to Christ’s arm. In Benson’s work that figure has disappeared, though in looking beneath the paint surface through the medium of infra-red reflectographs we see the outline of a figure in that position that Benson subsequently omitted (see fig. 1). The outlined figure looks less like an angel and more like a veiled female looking downwards at Christ. If this is the case it would suggest that Benson’s initial plan was to enclose the circular arrangement further with an additional figure, before thinking better of it in order to gain a view over the rolling fields to the city gate. In another treatment of the subject (private collection) the figures are set before a rock face with just a glimpse of a landscape behind Mary of Clopas;3 and in a lesser variant, described by Marlier as from Benson’s workshop, the view is partly obscured by the upright of the cross.4 We are grateful to Peter van den Brink for endorsing the attribution to Benson following first hand inspection. Drs. Van den Brink knows the painting from when it was on loan to the Bonnefantemuseum during his directorship there. Till Holger Borchert, on the basis of photographs, considers there to be an element of workshop assistance in the final execution.

1. See F. Winkler, Der Meister von Flemalle und Rogier van der Weyden, Strasbourg 1913, pl. XVI.
2. Accession number 1915.1.33.
3. Sold London, Christie’s, 6 July 2010, lot 28.
4. Formerly with Spanish Art Gallery, London. See Marlier, under Literature, cat. no. 7, reproduced plate XII.