In his survey of German small-scale Renaissance sculpture, E. F. Bange described this pair of statuettes as 'striking' works by an unknown Lower Rhenish sculptor, dating them to circa 1540 (op. cit
., p. 72). Writing in the late 1950s, Theodor Müller (op. cit.
) discussed them afresh within the context of small sculpture in the Low Countries, implying a similar dating but proposing instead a Southern Netherlandish origin. Significantly, Müller's thesis illustrates a figure of Salome in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg (inv. no. 1934,63), which is stylistically so close to the present figures as to suggest a common hand. Müller, however – presumably relying only on Bange's illustration of the present pair – did not seem to have recognised this affinity and instead proposed a considerably later dating for the Hamburg Salome
. This was based on a comparison with a group of stylistically distinct, but compositionally identical, Salomes
, including one forming a group with an executioner in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. 1173:3-1864), now dated to circa 1600 and displayed in the Baroque galleries. Remarking on the fluidity and expressiveness of their carving, Müller dismissed the Hamburg example as a later, more austere repetition when in fact it can be argued that, like the present figures, it represents an earlier prototype.
Despite the claim in the catalogue of the 2006 Conrat Meit exhibition that this celebrated German sculptor (circa 1470/85-1550/51), whose career was spent largely in Malines and Antwerp, had 'no direct influence' in the Netherlands (Eikelmann, op. cit.
, p. 58), the present statuettes are undeniably informed by his work. It was Meit who created perhaps the definitive Renaissance Judith
in his alabaster statuette of the heroine now in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (inv. no. R 204), dated to circa 1525-1528. Nude and resting on her sword, Meit's Judith
presents the head of Holofernes on a pedestal, confidently gazing at her prize. The present Judith
, though clothed, is closely related to Meit's heroine in her narrow-shouldered figure, elaborately braided hairstyle, and her downcast expression with a hint of a smile. Even the head of Holofernes is stylistically analogous, suggesting that the sculptor of the present group may have been familiar with Meit's statuette.
While the present Judith
averts her gaze from the severed head, her Maid – who, remarkably, survives as her companion – is represented with a furtive turn of the eyes and, leaning forward, seems eager to receive the head into her sack. The iconography of the group appears frequently in Northern Renaissance art, such as in prints by Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550) and Erhard Schön (1491-1542). In this configuration, the subject is thought to have had connotations of feminine danger and conspiracy. Judith's beguiling sexuality is here implied by her bare left shoulder and exposed right ankle, revealing an exotic sandal. The figure's luxuriant dress places the group within the context of Romanism, an artistic current in 16th century Netherlandish painting which incorporated Italian elements into the Northern style. A major proponent of Romanism was the painter Jan Gossaert (circa 1478-1532), whose Mary Magdalene
of around 1530 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, inv. no. 1991.585) exhibits the same silken puffed sleeves, diadem, and braided hairstyle as the present Judith
. Perhaps the most famous incarnation of this movement in small-scale sculpture is a boxwood Saint George
at the V&A (inv. no. A.30-1951). Long given to the Southern German Master H.L., more recently an origin in the Low Countries around 1530 has been proposed (see Scholten, op. cit
., pp. 461-462). While such comparisons substantiate a dating of the present group to the mid-16th century, the precise relation between this group, the Salome
in Hamburg, and the figures of Salome whose style anticipates the Baroque age of Rubens, remains unresolved in the absence of a consistent corpus of comparable statuettes.
Central to a still little-studied but fascinating phenomenon in Netherlandish sculpture, these rare and important figures may yet inspire further investigation.
Albert Freiherr von Goldschmidt-Rothschild
Albert von Goldschmidt-Rothschild was born in Frankfurt on the Main on June 3, 1843, the son of the Jewish banker and art collector Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild and his wife Minna Karoline, née von Rothschild. Like his father, Albert built up an extensive and precious art collection. Adding to his possessions, in April 1930 he acquired Grüneburg Castle, together with its contents, from the estate of his maternal grandparents Wilhelm Carl and Hannah Mathilde von Rothschild.
Following the Nazis’ assumption of power, the von Goldschmidt-Rothschild family was increasingly confronted with persecution measures, as a result of which its members lost, among other assets, their art collections. According to a letter from Fritz Mertens, the legal representative of his heirs, to the Central Registration Office in Bad Nauheim of December 8, 1948, Albert had already considered very soon after the Nazis’ rise to power to leave Germany and, for this purpose, to acquire funds in order to pay Reich Flight Tax. He therefore sold Grüneburg Castle and Park to the city of Frankfurt on 14 June 1935, but did not receive a fair price. He also started selling works of art from his collection through private sale as well as auction: on 11-13 May 1936 at Hugo Helbing, Frankfurt, and on 14 December 1937 and 5-7 April 1938 at Kunsthaus Heinrich Hahn, Frankfurt.
The remaining part of the collection should have been moved to Switzerland, where Albert had emigrated in January 1939. He joined his family in Lausanne, and remained there until his death on 27 December 1941. Unfortunately, however, the Nazi authorities prevented the export. Having remained in the warehouse of the moving company, the artworks were said to have been lost in a fire during an air raid on 22 March 1944.
E. F. Bange, Die Kleinplastik der Deutschen Renaissance in Holz und Stein, Florence/Munich, 1928, p. 72 and pl. 74; T. Müller, 'Zur südniederländischen Kleinplastik der Spätrenaissance', in W. Gramberg et al. (eds.), Festschrift für Erich Meyer zum sechzigsten Geburtstag 29. Oktober 1957; Studien zu Werken in den Sammlungen des Museums für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, 1959, pp. 191-199; R. Eikelmann (ed.), Conrat Meit: Bildhauer der Renaissance, exh. cat. Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich, 2006, pp. 58-60 and 76-79, no. 3; F. Scholten (ed.), Small Wonders: Late-Gothic Boxwood Micro-carvings from the Low Countries, exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum, New York and Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2016