The National Galleries of Scotland have acquired the central panel of an important early German altarpiece, but they have been unable to afford the wings. Dismemberment occurred five years ago when the triptych, dating from about 1519, was sold by the church of St Martin in Little Ness, Shropshire. Sotheby’s stated in their catalogue that the wings depicting St Christopher and St George appeared to be by the same artist as the Lamentation, but the central and side panels were sold as two lots.
Last month a Sotheby’s spokesman admitted that splitting them into two lots had been a “difficult decision”. But the wings had not been physically attached to the main panel in the Little Ness church and there was no absolute proof they had originally formed a triptych, although this was likely. Sotheby’s believed that offering them as two lots would maximise the financial gains for the Little Ness church.
On 8 December 1993 the central panel fetched £232,500, with the pair of wings going for £40,000. An export licence was deferred on the Lamentation, but there was no offer from a UK collection and it was therefore exported to America, where it was acquired by Alfred Bader Fine Arts of Milwaukee and New York dealer Otto Nauman.
Last month it was announced that Neuman had sold the Lamentation to Edinburgh, which bought it with the help of a £90,000 grant from the National Art Collections Fund.
There has been considerable debate over attribution, and the Lamentation has in the past few years been ascribed to a follower of Dürer or Cranach or simply a Franconian Master.
No export licence was required for the wings, because of their lower value. The wings (which had been cut down slightly many years ago) were acquired at Sotheby’s by dealer Daphne Alazraki of New York, and ownership then passed to her Düsseldorf associate, Galerie Lingenauber. The paintings have since been bought by an investment consortium, Downey Holdings, and are on the market for £110,000 through Lingenauber. Although offered to Edinburgh, the National Galleries of Scotland have been unable to raise the money and there is a feeling that their value has been inflated.
The deliberate dismemberment of a 500 year-old triptych is tragic, and is reminiscent of what occurred in earlier centuries. Links between the Lamentation panel and the wings make the break-up particularly regrettable. The small figure of the bearded donor in the Lamentation appears in the face of St George on the right wing, and he has been tentatively identified as Margrave Albrecht von Brandenberg-Ansbach. Edinburgh Keeper Michael Clarke is “very disappointed” that financial constraints have made it impossible to reassemble the Franconian triptych.
Last month’s article (p.11) on the Franconian altarpiece dismembered by Sotheby’s and partly acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland stated that New York dealer Daphne Alazraki bought the wings. This was based on a 1995 catalogue by New York dealer, Otto Naumann, information subsequently used by the National Galleries. Mr Naumann says that this was an error, and Ms Alazraki has confirmed that she never shared in the wing’s ownership.