SAVOYARD SCHOOL, POSSIBLY FROM THE CIRCLE OF NICOLAS ROBERT, CIRCA 1480
A Male Figure Perhaps Saint Sebastian: A Fragment
oil on panel laid down on panel
10 ⅘ x 8 ¼ inches (27.5 x 21 cm.)
Photo-certificate from Dr. Max J. Friedländer, dated Berlin, November 10, 1938 (stating the work as French School executed around 1480)
E. and A. Silberman Galleries, Inc., New York
Oliver B. James, Phoenix, Arizona, 1955
World House Galleries, New York
Anonymous sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, November 22-23, 1963, lot 47
(as Burgundian Master, circa 1480), where purchased by
Private Collection, New York until 2003
Frédéric Elsig, “Observations stylistiques”, in Peindre à Genève au XVIe Siècle, Georg editeur, Geneva, p. 79, fig. 18, illustrated
Presented as a bust-length figure in front of a green background, the young man is dressed in a red pourpoint with a green collar and red hat with a white feather. His costume appears to correspond to the fashion circa 1480, as does his long hair. Yet, judging from the orientation of the head which does not look at the viewer, the painting cannot be regarded as a portrait. Apparently cut on all four sides, it probably is a fragment from a larger painting. Despite the absence of a halo, the original image would have been the full figure of a saint dressed as a modern “damoiseau”, for example Hubert or Sebastian. Transformed, its current state reflects late nineteenth to early twentieth century taste, a period in which “the second rediscovery of the primitives” combined with a strong interest in portraiture. This taste was particularly prevalent after the important exhibitions of Flemish and French Primitives, organized respectively in Bruges, 1902 and Paris, 1904.
In a photo-certificate by Max J. Friedländer dated Berlin, November 10, 1938 the painting is attributed to a French Master active circa 1480. Charles Sterling in his records (now archived at the Department of Paintings, Louvre) classified it among the “problems” of the German School. When sold at auction in 1963 it was catalogued as a work by a Burgundian Master. In my opinion the painting reveals the influence of Northern works, defined by a rigidification of Flemish models, first evident in Champagne and Burgundy before reaching Lyons and the Duchy of Savoy. It can be compared for example with the Consecration of the Church in the Cathedral of Châlons-en-Champagne executed circa 1460-1470. But I propose the Duchy of Savoy as its point of origin, a region under German influence, in theory attributable to the circle of Nicolas Robert.
Originally from Lyons, Nicolas Robert is documented as a court painter to the Dukes of Savoy in Chambéry from 1465 – 1507/8. Also, he is possibly the artist identified as the “Master Colin” who painted different frescoes and panel paintings in the Issogne Castle in Valle d’Aosta, Italy in the first years of the sixteenth century. I recently put forth an attribution to Nicolas Robert for two sets of wings of an altarpiece probably done for the Franciscan Church of Chambéry (now in the Musée Savoisien, Chambéry) painted during the 1470s. Stylistically this panel can be placed between the two sets of alter wings in the Musée Savoisien (see 1a and 1b) and the later production in Issogne Castle. They all share common stylistic traits defined by a certain rigidity of execution along with pronounced underdrawing that remains partially visible. Works from the Savoyard School are extremely rare. The placement of this panel within its known works as well as representing a bridge between the 1470s and early sixteenth century production define it as a work of remarkable interest.
Prof. Frédéric Elsig
University of Geneva