Art Market, Munich;
Mrs. G.C. Arnot, London, by 1960;
By whom sold London, Christie's, 26 November 1965, lot 72;
With Alfred Brod Gallery, London, 1966;
From whom acquired by the father of the present owner.
Manchester, City of Manchester Art Gallery, German Art 1400–1800 from Collections in Great Britain, 24 October – 10 December 1961, no. 46 (as Sigmund Holbein);
London, Brod Gallery, Catalogue of Annual Spring Exhibition of Paintings by Old Dutch and Flemish Masters, 10 February – 5 March 1966, no. 3 (as Sigmund Holbein).
A. Stange, Deutsche Malerie der Gotik, Liechtenstein 1969, vol. VIII, pp. 77–78 ff.;
C. Beutler and G. Thieme, Hans Holbein der Ältere, Spätgotische Altar und Glasmalerei, Augsburg 1960, pp. 80–82, 136, no.2c;
Die Malerfamilie Holbein Basel, exh. cat., Basel 1960, p. 346, no. 442;
A. Brod Gallery, Catalogue of Annual Spring Exhibition of Paintings by Old Dutch and Flemish Masters, 1966, no. 3;
A. Stange, Kritisches Verzeichnis der deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer, Munich 1970, vol. II, p. 178, no. 790e;
K. Bauch, 'Auf Grünewald's Frühzeit', in Pantheon, II, March–April 1969, pp. 90, 96, reproduced fig. 16;
R. Mellinkoff, Outcasts: Signs of otherness in Northern European Art of the late Middle Ages, Berkeley and Oxford 1993, vol. II, p. 55, reproduced fig. II.48.
The overriding influence in all the panels of the altarpiece is that of Hans Holbein the Elder, and indeed the Basel wings had been exhibited in 1928 under his name. As Buchner was the first to observe, several of the heads in this predella and the Basel panels are very close to his work. They particularly recall, for example, those in Hans Holbein's Graue Passion, a series of twelve panels depicting the Passion of Christ, formerly at Donaueschingen and today in the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, which are generally dated by scholars to between 1494 and 1500.3 The panel of The Betrayal of Christ in particular comes stylistically very close to the present work, and it is more than likely that the two date from much the same period. The figures in the Basel Christ carrying the cross are found again, for example, in Hans Holbein’s Epitaph of the Vetter sisters of 1499 from the Augustinian Convent in Augsburg (now Augsburg, Staatsgalerie) and provide further evidence of Sigmund’s association with his elder brother’s workshop at this date and a possible terminus ante quem for the altarpiece itself.
As Kurt Bauch has observed, the subject was unusual in German art of this date; the motif of a blindfolded Christ may have influenced the young Mathias Grünewald, whose early Mocking of Christ (Munich, Alte Pinakothek), painted around 1505, uses the same device.
Very few biographical details of Sigmund's life are known, and the extent and nature of the collaboration with his brother is as yet ill-defined, however in this unusual depiction of the blindfolded Christ the influence of Sigmund's older brother is indisputable. In 1501 Hans Holbein and his younger brother are recorded together in Frankfurt-am-Main, where Sigmund worked as an assistant on the execution of the altar of the Dominicans. In 1504 he returned to Augsburg and in the winter of 1516–17 Sigmund lodged a complaint against his brother shortly after the latter had departed the city for Isenheim. It is likely that at this date Sigmund left the Augsburg workshop. A silverpoint drawing by Hans of Sigmund, made in 1512, today in the British Museum, records his appearance a few years before. Sigmund’s later years seem to have been spent in Berne, where he died on the 18 November 1540. No securely documented work by his hand survives, but a small œuvre of around a dozen paintings or groups of works has been assembled along stylistic lines which are generally regarded as by his hand.4 Unsurprisingly these reflect the dominant influence of his brother’s work, and in particular his Graue Passion in Stuttgart and the Marien Basilica in Augsburg, but display a distinct artistic personality, marked by a harder sense of form and drier and more local use of colour.
1 Softwood panels, 128.2 x 58 cm.; inv. nos G 2012.1 and G 2012.2. Exhibited Basel 1960 nos 440 and 441. See W. Hugelshofer, 'Notizien zur Ausstellung von Kunstwerken aus Basler Privatebesitz', in Oberrheinische Kunst, III, 1928, p. 175.
2 Inv. 186032 and 186033. See B. Steinborn and A. Ziemba, Deutsche Malerie bis 1600. Katalog Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie, Warsaw 2000, pp. 136–39, nos 32a and 32b.
3 Exhibited Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Hans Holbein D.Ä. Die Graue Passion in ihrer Zeit, 2010–11, nos 40–51, all reproduced.
4 These include a set of eleven altar panels formerly in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, of which all but two were destroyed in the war, two related panels today in the Kunstmuseum in Basel (see below), a Birth of Mary in the Mauritshuis, The Hague, two panels from a Marian altar in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, a Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden, three altar panels from a large Passion Altar divided between the Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal and the Kunstmuseum in Basel, and a single portrait formerly in the Epstein collection in Baltimore. The two surviving Nuremberg panels, the martyrdoms of Judas Thaddeus and Simon, are now in the parish church of Rödelheim near Frankfurt. The group was formerly ascribed to an eponymous ‘Master of the Martyrdoms of the Apostles’ before being assigned to Holbein.
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