A Flemish giltwood and carved alabaster retable

circle of Jean Mone (Flemish, 1500-1548), Malines, circa 1530-1540

Set within a painted and giltwood architectural framework, the whole composed of eight main reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin, organized in a two-storey structure with a three-storey central axis, and twenty-five decorative relief panels set within the pediments and spandrels of the frame.

H: 53, W: 36 in. (overall); H: 12 1/4 in. (panels)


Property of a Chester County, Pennsylvania Institution.
Estimate $25,000-35,000

This small retable, composed of alabaster reliefs set in a gilded wooden framing, is a Southern Netherlandish work from the circle of the leading Renaissance sculptor Jean Mone (c. 1485/90-c. 1548/59) and can be dated circa 1530-1540. In its programme, scenes from the life of Mary are intertwined with those of the life of Christ to underscore the role of the Virgin in the work of salvation. In the lower register appear The Annunciation, Christ appearing to the Virgin Mary after the Resurrection, and The Visitation are to be seen (f.l.t.r.). In the middle section, Christ among The Doctors, The Pentecost, and The Adoration of the Magi are depicted. In the upper part, The Adoration of the Shepherds is crowned by a semi-circular relief with the Coronation of the Virgin. In the socle, scenes of Christ's passion are included (The Mocking of Christ, The Crucifixion, and The Carrying of the Cross). Spandrels above trefoil arched reliefs and friezes of the entablatures are covered with fine arabesques and grotesques also carved in alabaster.

Small altarpieces of this type were most suitable for private devotion: in domestic or funeral chapels, for instance. Although the combination of alabaster reliefs within a wooden frame is a typical feature of Renaissance house altarpieces (so-called huisaltaartjes) produced in Malines and probably also Antwerp between circa 1530 and 1575, this unique work distinguishes itself from the serial merchandise. Unlike these typical works, which usually combine two to three alabaster reliefs, it is composed of seven larger reliefs and several smaller ones. Other singular, however smaller, works that precede the period of serial production of the years circa 1550-1575 are the domestic altarpiece (Mary and Child) in the collection of Royal Museum of Art and History (Lipi?ska 2015, fig. 76), the Last Supper retable in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (Lipi?ska 2015, fig. 82) and the retable with the Story of the Prodigal Son in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Lipi?ska 2015, fig. 97).

It is not only the serial export-orientated production of the southern Netherlandish alabaster ateliers that constitutes a point of reference for this interesting piece, however. Its overall composition resembles much more the one of the large Passion Altarpiece of Jean Mone (1536-1541) located in the Cathedral of SS Gudula and Michael in Brussels, which was initially destined for the chapel of the Royal Coudenberg Castle in Brussels (Lipi?ska 2015, fig. 31). Its grid-like framework, composed with the reliefs organised in a two-storey structure with a three-storey central axis, echoing Spanish reredos, has been "copied" here in a small scale. The "Spanish connection" is not accidental, since Jean Mone spent four years in Spain as a member of the workshop of Bartolomé Ordoñez. Also, the subtle, stylised all'antica type of figures as well as the ornament of the altarpiece resemble the work of Jean Mone.

Literature: Adriaan Jansen, 'Mechelse albasten', Handelingen van den Koninklijken Kring voor Oudheidkunde, Letteren en Kunst van Mechelen 68 (1964), pp. 111-191; Michael K. Wustrack, Die Mechelner Alabaster-Manufaktur des 16. und früheren 17. Jahrhunderts, Frankfurt a.M. & Bern 1982; Jacek Kriegseisen & Aleksandra Lipinska (eds.), Matter of light and flesh. Alabaster in the Netherlandish sculpture of the 16th and 17th centuries, Exp. Cat. National Museum in Gdansk, Gdansk 2011; Aleksandra Lipinska, Moving sculptures. Southern Netherlandish alabasters from the 16th to 17th centuries in Central and Northern Europe, Studies in Netherlandish Art and Culture, Leiden-Boston 2015.

Freeman's is grateful to Dr. Aleksandra Lipinska of the Institut für Kunstgeschichte, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich for providing the note on this work.

Sold for $150,000 (buyer's premium included)