Netherlandish art of the 15th and early 16th century did not produce monumental sequences of reliefs or frescoes of the True Cross legend, such as the History of the True Cross painted by Piero della Francesca in Arezzo. However, the legend was known in sequences of woodcuts, miniatures and illuminations. The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves features eight illuminated miniatures with the legend of the Cross (Utrecht, 1442-1445); and the printer Johan Veldener published a extensive cycle of woodcuts of the Legend of the True Cross in Culemborg in 1483. An Antwerp altarpiece of the Passion, in Saint Peter's Chruch in Dortmund, features the story of the True Cross on the lowest register (op. cit. p. 80-81). Lastly, and most comparable to the present relief, are a series of wood reliefs in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. nos. 114-1908; 114A to F-1908), attributed to Southern Netherlands, probably Brussels, circa 1500. Although less elaborately carved and of smaller size to the present relief, comparisons are clearly visible in the characterful faces, the costumes, and the positioning of some of the figures.
In the 2003 exhibition Lumen Canariense (op. cit., no. 67), the present relief is attributed to Brabant sculptor, architect and printer Alart du Hameel. The attribution is largely based on a print in the British Museum, which shows the Emperor Heraclius entering Jerusalem with the True Cross (inv. no. 1845,1809.438). Although the print is clearly part of the same tradition as the present relief, none of du Hameel's sculptural works have survived. Therefore, although some similarities can be seen in style - compare, for instance, the mounts on the cross beam - the attribution cannot be sustained unless further attributed works by du Hameel are found. The present relief then is likely to have formed part of a large retable illustrating the legend of the True Cross, perhaps in similar manner as the Dortmund altarpiece.
M. Buyle and C. Vanthillo, Retables Flamands et Brabançons dans les Monuments Belges, Brussels, 2000, 79-86; B. Baert, 'De legende van het kruishout in de Nederlanden', in Hout in boeken, houten boeken en de fraaye konst van houtdraayen, ed. L. Knapen en L. Kenis, Leuven, 2008, pp. 63-78.
The present lot is offered with a Radiocarbon dating measurement report prepared by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, dated 12 July 1999, which states that the wood from the sample dates between AD 1404 and 1517 (92.1% confidence interval).
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