Christ Among the Doctors, an illuminated cutting from a Book of Hours on vellum. [France (eastern?), 15th century (c.1470s/80s)]




Christ among the Doctors. The learned men sit on the right and listen with fascination or astonishment as the Child expounds the Law. The Virgin and Joseph enter the Temple from the left.

Size 99 x 84 mm, the versos preserving 12 (out of 16?) lines of text in two sizes of gothic script, with illuminated 1- and 2-line initials and line-fillers, each with the upper edge slightly cropped, with a row of sewing(?) holes, and some pigment loss, framed and glazed 

A highly expressive and unusual miniature from the renowned Burckhardt-Wildt album, as well as showing the dominant figures of each scene in splendid detail, especially facial expressions, great care is also taken with the background features, in this case a richly decorated interior scene. The figures, which often display big heads, high foreheads and snub noses, show links with the Master of Walters 222 who seems to have worked in Poitiers.  

As noted in Sotheby’s 1983 catalogue of the Burkhardt-Wildt collection, the subject of the illumination is extremely rare, taken from the Life of Christ but illustrating the Office of the Virgin, in this case the surviving verso text of 12 lines is from Matins. The present cutting was one of six offered at the sale (originally Burckhardt-Wildt album ff. 34-35) whose verso texts are “consistent with the Use of Auxerre, Châlons, and Besançon, hinting at eastern French and possibly Burgundian origin”.  

Although the miniature is cropped this is somewhat redeemed by the fact that it has such an illustrious Swiss provenance from the late 18th century, belonging first to Peter Birmann, painter and art dealer, and then to the antiquarian Daniel Burckhardt-Wildt whose highly important collection of cuttings was unknown until his descendants sold them at Sotheby’s almost two centuries later.      

Daniel Burckhardt-Wildt, was a Basle silk ribbon manufacturer, connoisseur and minor artist whose family had been silk merchants from 1518. He was a member of the Künstlergesellschaft of Basel and after the French Revolution began to buy works of art through Peter Birmann (1758-1844), landscape painter and art dealer, who frequently visited Paris from June 1795 and from whom were acquired pictures, drawings, prints, marbles and bronzes. Birmann who specialised in medieval miniatures, he owned and sold, for example, the miniatures of Jean Fouquet’s Hours of Etienne Chevalier assembled in France the a huge album for Burckhardt-Wildt which comprised around 475 illuminated cuttings (see Christopher de Hamel's introduction noted to the 1983 Sotheby’s sale catalogue).  

Provenance  I. Peter Birmann (1758–1844). II. Daniel Burckhardt-Wildt (1759–1819), by descent through his heirs in Basel until sold Sotheby’s, 25 April 1983, lot 128, bought by: III. Pierre Berès (d.2008)..

Stock Code: 250568

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