Lot 14. The Master of the Figdor St Eustache (Active in Romagna at the end of the 15th century), The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, oil on panel, maroflauged, 88.3 x 65.3 cm.; 34 3/4 x 25 3/4 in. Estimate 300,000 — 400,000 GBP. Lot Sold 357,000 GBP (USD). Photo: Sotheby's.
Provenance: Art market, Italy;
Exhibited: Forlí, Musei San Domenico, Marco Palmezzano, il Rinascimento nelle Romagne, 4 December 2005 – 30 April 2006, no. 5 (as circle of Melozzo da Forlí, The Master of the Figdor Saint Eustace).
Literature: S. Tumidei, Melozzo da Forlí, La sua città e il suo tempo, exhibition catalogue, Milan 1994, pp. 66–68, reproduced pp. 60 and 61 (as circle of Melozzo da Forlí, possibly a Roman artist);
Gemäldegalerie Berlin, Gesamtverzeichnis, Berlin 1994, p. 322, under cat. no. 2143 (as Umbro-Roman, end of the 15th century);
A. Tambini in N. Ceroni (ed.), Pinacoteca comunale di Ravenna, Museo d'Arte della Città, La Collezione Antica, Ravenna 2001, p. 52 (as possibly Marco Palmezzano while still under the influence of Melozzo da Forlí);
A. Tambini, 'Postille a Palmezzano,' in Romagna Arte e Storia, XXIII, 2003, 67, p. 32, note 10 (as possibly an early work by Palmezzano);
V. Sgarbi, Francesco del Cossa, Milan 2003, (as an early work by Palmezzano);
S. Tumidei, Marco Palmezzano, il Rinascimento nelle Romagne, exhibition catalogue, Milan 2005, pp. 184-85, cat. no. 5, reproduced in colour (as Circle of Melozzo da Forlí, The Master of the Figdor Saint Eustace, 1490).
Note: The name of the artist derives from a panel depicting Saint Eustace in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, formerly in the Figdor collection, which was considered to be by Melozzo da Forlí by some of the titans of twentieth-century Italian art history, including Roberto Longhi, Carlo Volpe and Federico Zeri.1 While recognising the distinct debt to Melozzo, more recent scholars such as Tambini (see Literature) have questioned this attribution, proposing instead that it could be an early work by Marco Palmezzano while still heavily dependent on Melozzo's style.
Stefano Tumidei, who was the first to publish the present panel, offers perhaps the clearest explanation of the presumed links between our artist and Melozzo during the 1480s, the least documented phase in Melozzo's career. The foreshortening of the saint, as well as his hair, echo Melozzo's work in Loreto and suggest that the Figdor Master may well have collaborated directly with Melozzo. The idea that it is a youthful work by Palmezzano is less convincing for Tumidei, however, for the panel shows few stylistic links to Palmezzano's altarpiece in Dozza, from 1492, and would anyway be too idiosyncratic a work for Palmezzano's more rigid style.2
The proposed dating to circa 1490 would make the painting an extremely early example of the successful use of distorted perspective, as Tumidei notes. The design revolves around counter-balances and internal rhythms, geometric shapes and more fluid lines. The archers in the foreground show a close understanding of the work of Andrea Mantegna, and in particular his treatment of the same subject from the 1480s, today in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.3 Behind them the saint is shown in an elegant pose leaning against classical columns which provide a vertical axis to the composition, while to his left the steep drop leads the eye to two rather fey figures who contrast admirably with their caricatured colleagues in the foreground. To their left another drop takes us to a group of soldiers beside the river. The bridge above them provides a neat horizontal line which cuts through the design, almost as a line of demarcation before the craggy hill-top town beyond. The same approach to landscape and the town are offered in the aforementioned Berlin Saint Eustace, with a very similar play of colour between the greys of the rocks and the red of the bricks.
1. See Berlin 1994, under Literature; R. Longhi, Ricerche sulla pittura veneta, 1946–69, reprinted Florence 1978, p. 81.
2. Tumidei 2005, pp. 186–89, cat. no. 6, reproduced.
3. R. Lightbown, Mantegna, Berkeley 1986, pp. 420–21, cat. no. 22, reproduced in colour plate XI.
Sotheby's. Old Masters Evening Sale, London, 06 dec. 2017