Lot 3
  • 3

Antwerp School, circa 1525

100,000 - 150,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • The adoration of the Magi
  • oil on oak panel, with an arched top


Sale, London, Christie's, 10 July 1987, lot 55, for £71,500 (as The Master of the Martyrdom of the Two Saint Johns);
There acquired by the present collector.


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 picture is in excellent condition overall. The carefully rendered details are beautifully preserved and free of wear, and the wide-ranging palette remains bright. A narrow stripe of retouching follows the join, right of center; a hairline crack running the length of the panel denotes the location of the join. The retouching is slightly discolored. A few minuscule old flake losses which have been toned but not filled can be found across the surface, and are minor in nature. Nascent lifting is seen in the garments of the standing magi and in the flowing robe of the right-most angel, along with a few newer flake losses. These raised edges of paint appear stable but should be consolidated and set into plane to prevent further losses from occurring. The oak panel support, with the grain running vertically, has been cradled and is planar. The varnish seems a bit dull and only slightly discolored. A few large losses to the gilding and gesso on the frame are found on the right and left columns.
"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

Painted circa 1525, this dramatic and theatrical depiction of the Adoration of the Magi is a fine example of the "Antwerp Mannerist" style that flourished in the city during the first three decades of the 16th Century. The elongated figures, their exotic and colorful costumes, as well as the imaginative and ornate architectural elements are all characteristics of this short-lived artistic movement that found its fullest flowering in the economic capital of Northern Europe, but was paralleled in other centers in the Southern and Northern Netherlands, and in France and Germany.

As is the case with many of these works, the author of the present panel has yet to be identified but he seems to have been familiar with the work of the Master of the Martyrdom of the Two Saint Johns, an artist named after a pair of panels: one representing the Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist in Paris, Musée du Louvre (inv. no. R.F. 2128); the other of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist, formerly in the collection of Sir Henry Howorth, London. Two figures in the present painting, those of Caspar, the kneeling magus in the foreground, and Balthasar, the magus standing at the right and wearing a turban, are related to corresponding figures in an Adoration, published by Max. J. Friedlander in 1974 as a work of this Master, and formerly on the art market in Munich (fig. 1).1 Although similar in type and pose, the two figures depicted here are not identical and both the costumes and the form of the jeweled vessels brought as gifts differ from those seen in the Munich panel. The remaining figures and their setting, meanwhile, do not find direct parallels in other works and seem entirely original and of the artist’s own invention. The particularly rich setting of the scene, within an audaciously opulent interior, replete with elaborate columns and intricately carved reliefs, is a far cry from the humble stable of the Nativity but one to which the artist nonetheless alludes with the oxen peering from behind a column and the few stray ears of wheat seen in the foreground beside Balthasar’s meretricious boots.

1. M.J. Friedländer, Die Altniederländische Malerei, vol. XI, pp. 34 and 73, reproduced plate XXX, fig. 62; the whereabouts of that painting are currently unknown.