3101
3101
A CARVED WOOD ANGEL OF ANNUNCIATION
UPPER CATALONIA, SPAIN, CIRCA 1100
Estimate
600,000800,000
JUMP TO LOT
3101
A CARVED WOOD ANGEL OF ANNUNCIATION
UPPER CATALONIA, SPAIN, CIRCA 1100
Estimate
600,000800,000
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Curiosity V

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A CARVED WOOD ANGEL OF ANNUNCIATION
UPPER CATALONIA, SPAIN, CIRCA 1100
powerfully carved as the Angel of the Annunciation, depicted standing upright with the arms lowered and the palms facing outward, indicating a momentous act of declamation, suggesting the moment when the Archangel Gabriel announces to the Virgin that she will conceive the Son of God, the angel with short, cropped hair wearing a simple full-length garment with a U-shaped neckline consistent with the style of its time, the top of the right arm with a vertical, rectangular recess with fixing holes, the now damaged left arm possibly once attached with wings
80 by 14 by 12 cm, 31 1/2  by 5 1/2  by 4 3/4  in.
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Provenance

Collection of Eric de Kolb (1916-2001), New York, until 1990s.
Acquired in Belgium.

Catalogue Note

The dating of the figure to c.1100 is strongly founded both on the results of radiocarbon analysis undertaken at KIK/IRPA in 2013, and on numerous stylistic grounds. It can be compared, for example, with a number of largescale Crucifixes carved across the Upper Catalan region of north-eastern Spain and dateable to the first half of the 12th century. More precisely with regards to localisation, the material, features, and format of the figure all support a Catalan origin and context. There, sculptural production was shaped by the availability of softwoods, rather than harder timbers such as oak or walnut (the latter wood types characterising French and Mosan Romanesque sculpture for example). The placement of the hands palm-first in front of the body has parallels to two Holy Women now in the Musée de Cluny, Paris, and the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass. (the latter illustrated in Catalogne romane: Sculptures du Val de Boí, Barcelona and Paris, 2004, p. 89, cat. no. 4). Both figures were formerly part of a Descent from the Cross carved between c.1120 and 1140 in the highly successful workshop of Taüll, north-west Catalonia. What seems to have remained a highly localised feature of Catalan wood sculpture is the idiomatic carving of the thumbs, which on the present angel are shown bent at the knuckles so that the distal phalanx crosses over the palm. This feature does not seem to have migrated far into the other kingdoms of Spain during the period, and is certainly absent from Castilian carved wood sculpture of the same date. The same detail can be found on the Majestad de Batlló, a highly important polychromed Crucifix preserved in the Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña, Barcelona (accession no. 015937-000), and on the central figure of Christ in Majesty from the antependium of Santa María de Taüll preserved in the same museum (accession no. 003904-CJT). The Batlló Crucifix is also carved with clearly delineated upper eyelids, which, like those of the present angel, emphatically bisect the convex protrusions of the eyeballs rather than framing them from above.

The frontal orientation of the figure, the flat profile of its reverse face, and the traces there of historic fixing holes at the level of the ankles and shoulder blades, all suggest that it was intended to be fixed onto a flat wooden backboard or framing element. The survival of a small number of Catalan softwood altar frontals from the 12th century that correspond closely with such a setting, and on which figures carved and attached in exactly this manner can still be found, provides a highly plausible context for the reconstruction of our angel’s original appearance and function. The altar frontals of Santa María de Taüll (cited above) and Sant Pere de Ripoll (Museu Episcopal, Vic, no. MEV 556), both carved in Upper Catalonia in the 12th century, retain figures that can be compared closely to the present angel; they are typically shown standing in a front-on orientation, with elongated bodies and with the emphasis placed on the gestures of the hands to provide visual variety and rhythm. A single figure from an altar frontal of this type, showing Saint Paul carved in a markedly similar in style to the present figure, but holding attributes and with more ornate draperies, was published by Cook and Ricart in 1950, but its present whereabouts seems to be unknown (reproduced in W.W. Spencer Cook and J. Gudiol Ricart, Ars Hispaniae: Historia Universal del Arte Hispanico, vol. VI, Madrid, 1950, fig. 345).

As part of an altar frontal, the present angel would most likely have occupied the upper of two registers (a format typical of such objects and one that seems to have informed, or been informed by, the settings of figures in other mediums at this date as well).1 It would have been accompanied by its counterpart, the Virgin of the Annunciation, as well as by other figures integrated to expand the Marian and Christological narrative, and perhaps set alongside a larger central figure of Christ or the Virgin and Child, as conventionally characterises the composition of these altarpieces.

Despite inevitable losses consistent with age and material, the present figure retains great sculptural power, and its re-emergence from a history of relative obscurity marks a moment of utmost significance for the scholarship of Spanish Romanesque sculpture. As a figure that can be compared closely to the antependia of Taüll and Ripoll it provides a key piece of evidence for an otherwise lost altar frontal of major importance and monumental scale. Moreover, its restrained style and the results of its carbon dating fully support the proposition that it in fact pre-dates the majority of 12th century wood sculpture to have survived from this region, and can be dated to the very start of the century, increasing its significance still further.

For further discussion of Romanesque altar frontals from Catalonia, see Medieval Art in Spain A.D. 500-1200, New York, 1993, pp. 324-327, especially p. 327, cat. no. 171; see also Romanesque Art Guide of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona, 2000 ed., pp. 104-105; M.S. Gros I Pujol, Museu Episcopal de Vic: Romànic Barcelona, 1991; W.W. Spencer Cook and J. Gudiol Ricart, op. cit.

 

1 See for example the arrangement of the apostles in tiers around a central larger figure of Christ in the Liber testamentorum, c.1118, Cathedral Archive, Oviedo, Ms. 1, fol. IV, reproduced in Medieval Art in Spain A.D. 500-1200, op. cit., p. 295, cat. no. 149.

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