Lot 99
  • 99

CIRCLE OF JUAN MARTÍNEZ MONTAÑÉS (1568–1649)SPANISH, 17TH CENTURY | Infant Saint John the Baptist

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Infant Saint John the Baptist
  • polychromed ivory, on a probably original wood base
  • ivory: 32.5cm., 12¾in.base: 7cm., 2¾in. 
  • Circle of Juan Martínez Montañés (1568–1649) Spanish, 17th century


Overall, the condition of the ivory is very good, with minor dirt and wear to the surface, consistent with age. The proper left arm is carved separately and there is a stable original joint at the forearm and elbow. There is minor stable splitting to the ivory, consistent with the material, including some vertical splits down the proper right side of the body and to the drapery on the proper left side. The polychromy is generally intact, with some areas of loss and wear. There are areas of loss to the polychromy: to the drapery at the proper left knee, to the drapery at the back, to the nose and beneath the chin, to the proper right arm and to the chest. There is a small loss to the polychromy to the proper left side of the forehead. It is possible that the polychromy may have been refreshed in some areas, including the proper right forearm. There are dirt residues to the surface, including a few brownish marks. There are three small holes in Christ's head. The wood base is carved separately and there is a joint visible. There is a small hole between the figure's feet. The figure revolves slightly on the base. The base is composed in two sections and there is a joint at the front.
"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 rare and superbly carved ivory figure of the Infant St John the Baptist shares affinities with the work of the celebrated Spanish sculptor Juan Martínez Montañés known as 'el dios de la madera' (the god of wood). It is likely to have been carved by an ivory carver in his circle, possibly close to Montañés himself. Montañés did in fact work in ivory though, since there exists a contract published by Celestino López Martínez on 12 November 1590 documenting the commissioning of an ivory corpus from Montañés by a Doctor Nicolás Monardes (see Estella Marcos, op. cit., pp. 19-21). The present whereabouts of this corpus is unknown. However, there exists an ivory corpus in the Museo de Artes Decorativas in Madrid which has been associated by Margarita Estella Marcos with Martínez Montañés (inv. no. CE01170; Estella Marcos, op. cit., pp. 19-21).

Montañés established the canonical depiction of the Sevillian Infant Christ with his Christ Child in the Cofradía del Santísimo Sacramento, Seville, of 1606 (see Proske, op. cit., fig. 31). The present figure is fundamentally indebted to Montañés' archetype. Note the similarly expressive gesture with parted fingers, svelte physiognomy, and the distinct contrapposto. The present figure departs from the 1606 Christ Child in the facial features however. It lacks the characteristic trapezoid shaped face and has eyebrows with deeper arches; the hair is more tightly cropped to the scalp. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the present figure represents St John and so does not strictly follow any Christ model (and Montañés was responsible for varying depictions of the Infant Christ, see, for example, his Saint Christopher Bearing the Christ Child in the Colegiata de El Salvador, 1597, with oblong face and trailing ringlets). The present figure shares the diminutive nose and small mouth with Montañés' infant models.

The Infant St John's drapery compares with the broad, fluid, folds of drapes, also tied with a strap at the proper right shoulder, worn by an elder Saint John the Baptist from the Retablo of the Immaculate Conception in Seville Cathedral (see Proske, op. cit., fig. 182). The polychromy on the present St John finds a comparison in Montañés' statue of the Saint from a retable in the Convent of Santa Clara, Seville (see Proske, op. cit., fig. 159). Note the eyelashes and eyebrows with individually delineated hairs. The quality of the present figure is such that it must have been carved by a sculptor with considerable talent and experience at the time Montañés was working or shortly thereafter.

B.G. Proske, Juan Martínez Montañés: Sevillian Sculptor, New York, 1967, p. 51-52, figs. 31-32, 159, 182; M. Estella Marcos, La escultura barroca de marfil en España, Madrid, 1984, pp. 19-21; J. Hernando Díaz, Juan Martínez Montañés (1568-1649), Seville, 1987; S. L. Stratton-Pruitt and JL. Romero Torres, The Mystery of Faith: An Eye on Spanish Sculpture 1550-1750, exh. cat. Matthiesen Gallery and Coll & Cortes, London and Madrid, 2009