This is a fascinating item that came with excellent provenance, purchased with other rare antiques that came from the same English husband and wife deceased estate. Please see an identical example of Saint Mary Magdalen dated to the 1600's and French in origin that was bequeathed in 1881 by Stephen Whitney Phoenix (great grandson of Stephen Whitney the fabulously wealthy New York merchant). The Magdelen straw panel is now held by The Metropolitan Museum, New York. Please view The Met example, it is the twin of our example.
This small straw marquetry panel would have been made by Monks or Nuns for personal devotion. This miniature devotional panel was made up of a hardwood base which was then covered in crimson silk velvet. THE most delicate straw marquetry carnations (a very popular 16th century floral motif see Tudor and Stuart needlework's of that period) and other equally intricate flowers were applied in the corners and along the vertical edges. To the center an oval cartouche frame was applied; this time consisting of larger, flattened strips of straw that were then over painted in black ink in a cross hatch design to mimic a wood cut engravings of that period. The center depiction of an applied straw Madonna and child is the crowning work of art which was then over painted in polychrome coloration, finally a hand painted paper or vellum face of the Madonna was inserted under the straw marquetry hood and crown; just look at those radiating rays above her crown, all made from hair width strips of straw....phenomenal!!!
This ancient survivor was placed in its current ebonised frame and under glass during the 19th century. Luckily the original wooden backing board was retained and you can see a lengthy inscription hand written on the original back panel in black ink. We have tried to read it but it is almost impossible to decipher, we believe that it is written in Italian, we can just make out the words "di Maria 1656??
The 16th and 17th centuries were a period of huge religious reforms throughout most of Europe and beyond. The reasons for this movement are complex but one of the main issues was the authority and beliefs of the Pope and the Roman Catholic church. These issues were seriously questioned as protestant ideals spread via the printed word. The Bible had been translated by Luther and other scholarly books were being translated from Latin and then printed; leading to a more general awareness and education, the people had a voice! John Calvin's theological beliefs were also influential and even Britain's King Henry VIII broke from Rome (conveniently allowing him to divorce his wife), declaring himself to have the 'divine right of kings', believing himself to now rule directly from the will of God and not from the will of the Pope. It was during this period that some protestants committed Iconoclasm - the deliberate defacing and destruction from Churches of any painting, statue, sculpture, stained glass window etc that depicted a devotional image thought to be idolatrous. Known as Beeldenstorm in the Netherlands, many of the worlds religious artistic treasures were very sadly ruined. The above subject has strong links with our miniature icon as you can clearly see that the face of the Madonna appears to have been torn off from just below her eyes and also the straw marquetry applique of the infant Jesus has clearly also been removed. To us, this points to just such an act as Iconoclasm.
SIZE: 6.5" by 5.5" framed, the actual panel measures a little over 4.25" by 3 3/8".
CONDITION: This ANCIENT item is nearly 400 years of age and as you can clearly see is NOT perfect. Its fair to poor condition is reflected in the images. The red silk velvet ground is faded and has bare patches. There are some areas of straw loss to the floral motifs but considering its age not significant . There is some flaking of the polychrome red and green paint on the Madonna's cape. As mentioned the Madonna is missing some of her face and the Christ child is now completely missing. However, incredibly much decorative appeal remains within this ancient example and we would love to see it loved and cherished once again, just as it was intended back four centuries ago.
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