Miniature triptych in finely carved boxwood. Top in the form of an arch with hooked ramps and a pinnacle crowned with a finial, back with three sides. Central part, the Adoration of the Magi surmounted by the Annunciation to the Shepherds; on the left panel, the Annunciation and, on the right panel, the Dream of Joseph; on each part of the triptych is represented, overhanging the scene, an angel holding a banner with his two hands; only the Adoration of the Magi is built on two planes in depth, two Magi (one of which has disappeared) are in front, the Virgin and the Child and the third Magus is in the background; the frames imitate Gothic architecture with columns surrounded by foliage, capitals, arcatures housing three-lobed arches and courses of foliage scrolls, a shield is at the tip of the central part. This triptych rests on a twisted column surrounded by an interlacing of branches, evoking the Tree of Jesse; molded terrace.
Northern Netherlands, Holland, Adam Dircksz and his workshop, 1503-1533
Height : 17 cm - Width open : 9,9 cm
(Left magus missing, slight restorations)
This precious triptych is part of the devotional microsculptures made in boxwood in the Netherlands during the first third of the 16th century. There are more than a hundred of these works, which can take different forms: prayer nuts, diptychs or triptychs as here, but also very varied objects such as monstrances, altarpieces, rosaries, coffin-shaped boxes or knife handles. These objects, fascinating in their meticulousness and iconographic invention, have benefited in recent years from an international research program that culminated in exhibitions held in Canada, the United States and the Netherlands in 2017.
This triptych from the Charles Boucaud collection is so far unpublished. It does not appear in the database The Boxwood Project, which was set up ten years ago by the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and which lists all the known works of this type of boxwood sculpture. Sixteen triptychs of different models are listed. The singularity of this one lies in the presence of the Dream of Joseph, a scene rarely represented in Christian iconography, which does not seem to have been interpreted on other microsculptures. Another peculiarity is the foot in the form of a tangle of branches, an obvious allusion to the Tree of Jesse as seen in the figure of David's father lying amidst similar branches in the base of the Crucifixion from the Alkmaar triptych in the Louvre Museum's collections (inv. OA 5612, fig.).
During the 2017 exhibitions, the name of Adam Dircksz was put forward as the author of some of these miniature works, confirming a hypothesis put forward as early as 1968 when J. Leeuwenberg deciphered an inscription on a prayer nut in the Staten Museum of Kunst in Copenhagen (inv. KMS 5552). At present, it seems that this attribution must be qualified, as the name Adam Dircksz would in fact be that of the person who commissioned the nut, a brewer in Delft. Whatever the case, the workmanship of this triptych of the Three Wise Men clearly reflects the style of this sculptor as described in the booklet on the Last Judgment prayer nut in the Louvre (inv. OA 5609): "slightly bulging eyes with very pronounced "coffee bean" eyelids", a horror of emptiness, and a taste for picturesque detail, which is visible here in the depiction of the ruinous architecture that houses the Adoration.
This "little marvel" that constitutes this triptych would thus be a new work to add to the corpus of this artist.
Former Charles Boucaud collection, Paris, most likely acquired on the art market in the 1970s/90s
Works consulted :
J. Lowden and J. Cherry, Medieval Ivories and Works of Art, The Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario, London, n.d., cat.48-51.
Exhibitions Toronto - New York - Amsterdam 2017, Small Wonders, Art Gallery of Ontario - The Metropolitan Museum of Arts - Rijksmuseum, cat. F. Scholten.
E. Antoine-König, P. Dandridge and L. Ellis, The Last Judgment in a Prayer Nut: Devotional Microsculptures, Musée du Louvre, Solo Collection - Department of Art Objects, Paris, 2021.
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