Welcome to another selection in the series Curator’s Choice—occasional online exhibitions where colleagues choose some of their favorite art works from the medieval period. This gives us an opportunity to see the personal tastes of some eminent scholars and to understand what stimulates their interests. This exhibition is restricted to no more than six works per individual and the selections can be drawn from any period or region.
This selection is slightly different in that it is also a plea for help! Our choice here comes from ICMA member Judith Mann, Curator of European Art to 1800 in the Saint Louis Art Museum. Some of the many medieval treasures from this fine collection are already well known to medievalists but there are some that still remain to be discovered. In Judith’s own words her selection is really works that still await identification and that is where her request for help from all of us comes in! If anyone has any ideas on these work please contact her at:
Dr. Judith W. Mann
Curator, European Art to 1800
Curatorial Intern Coordinator
Saint Louis Art Museum
One Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park
St. Louis, MO 63110
Telephone 314.655.5218; facsimile 314.721.6172
I am grateful to Judith for sharing these works with us and hope that you will all be able to help. Many thanks to Gerry Guest, Web Editor for the ICMA for his work in getting this exhibition online.
Foreword by Judith Mann
Like many museum curators, I have responsibility for works of art that do not fall within my area of expertise. As someone who works on sixteenth and seventeenth-century Italian painting, I do not pretend to possess deep knowledge of Romanesque and Gothic sculpture and have been the happy recipient of generous advice and assistance by medievalists over the past 20 years. I have isolated six examples of works that still await proper identification or classification. I look forward to hearing from ICMA members who can offer suggestions for avenues of investigation or provide useful comparisons.
11:1933. Virgin and Child, France, Normandy, 1530-1540. Limestone, with traces of polychromy, H: 57 3/4″in; W: 20 5/8 in; D: 12 3/8 in. Museum Purchase.
This object has been placed around Troyes in Champagne and dated to c.1500 (J. Mann, Saint Louis Art Museum Winter Bulletin, 1992, pp. 15-17) although Dorothy Gillerman (Gothic Sculpture in America II: The Museums of the Midwest) places it in Normandy and dates it to 1530-40. Some scholars have expressed reservations about the piece in general, wondering whether the child’s head was recut and noting the extreme depth in the handling of the decorative drapery borders. The stone has been analyzed and it was quarried in Caen. Also useful to know is that this came from the Brummer collection.
71:1932. Fragment of Archivolt, Italy, 12th century. Stone, H: 13 1/2 in.; W: 27 ½ in. Museum Purchase
Questions abound. What is it? It seems to be part of an archway, although having two figures flanking a rosette seems odd. Looking at it from the side, one can see curvature in the front surface. There is foliate carving on the side that must have been facing outwards from whatever surface it was attached to. Questions also surround its origin, although most who have seen it feel that it is Italian. Some reservations have been expressed about it, since the configuration is so odd and the carving (to some) has not appeared of high quality. Necessary to point out is that the dealer who sold it to the museum was Harold Parsons.
84:1932. Head, 12th century. Stone, H: 8 ¾ in. Museum Purchase.
Walter Cahn originally assigned this to the Pyrenees, but most scholars who have since seen the piece have disagreed, even if they understood that association. It is tonsured. Some have questioned authenticity. This is also a Brummer piece.
108:1926. St. John the Evangelist, Germany, c. 1500. Wood with traces of pigment, H: 14 1/16 in; W: 14 1/8 in. (including base). Museum Purchase
The piece came in as a Veit Stoss (no surprise) and is now generally considered to be from Nuremburg. The base is a separate piece, and the thinking has been that it was once part of a full sculpture of St. John, either a single figure or part of a Crucifixion group. Years ago the thinking was also that it couldn’t be a bust, but with more evidence of such pieces perhaps it could have been, in spite of the base.
12:1933. St. Luke, France, c. 1500. Limestone with traces of paint, H: 39 in. Museum Purchase
There has been some discussion as to whether this is Luke writing the gospel or Luke painting the Virgin Mary. While most subscribe to the former opinion, it seems odd that if he is writing, might he not have been part of a group of four, in which case we would expect to have found others? Perhaps not, but given the quality of the piece, it is hoped that we can narrow down the geographical origin of this sculpture.
87:1949. Bishop Saint, French, 14th century. Caen stone, H: 77 1/8in. Museum Purchase
Issues for this piece concern its origin, date and function. Dorothy Gillerman (Gothic Sculpture in America II: The Museums of the Midwest, 1989) argued it was a tomb sculpture, intended to lie horizontally, and that part of its support has been cut away. Others have suggested it could have been a pillar figure and probably located relatively high up. The face seems to have been recut, but it has also been suggested that it relates to the fourteenth-century heads at the Walters Art Gallery and that it hasn’t been recut. Another aspect of the piece that has generated discussion is the cutouts, presumably for gems/glass of some sort. Some feel they were added later and others have suggested that they are original.