A High Gothic French-Iberian Bust of John the Baptist
A High Gothic French-Iberian Bust of a bearded saint
Sphere of Lorenzo Mercadante de Bretaña; 15th century
Walnut; approximate size: 23 cm (h)
The present bust of a saint, probably John the Baptist, can be linked to the workmanship of a particular master also responsible for a walnut bust of St. James and a walnut figure of St. Jacques, both in the private art market (Sam Fogg, dealer, no. 17481 and Binoche et Giquello auction, 17 July 2020, lot 183, respectively).
The striking appearance of the saint’s faces are skillfully sculpted and suggest the work of an accomplished artist. Their elongated faces, prominent cheekbones, heavy eyelids, half-circle eyes, and intricately carved hair—distinguishing itself against the smoothed features of the saint’s foreheads—and arched brows offer a visual assessment both noble and penetrating.
An immediate comparison of these saints can be made against the surviving statuary flanking the walls of the Sainte-Chapelle at Châteaudun Castle, suggestive of an artist active in-and-around the Loire Valley or possibly further north in the Île-de-France during the 15th century.
Our bust may quite likely belong to the thrust of Northern French sculptors travelling to the Iberian Peninsula for work during the 15th century. In particular, parallels can be drawn against the work of Lorenzo Mercadante de Bretaña, a French sculptor active in-and-around Seville between 1454-67 and earlier in Zaragoza in 1446 where he was indentured for two years under the auspices of the sculptor, Fortaner de Usesques.
An adequate comparison can be drawn against the life-size terracotta figures Mercadante executed for the Doors of the Nativity and Baptism of Christ at Seville Cathedral with their stylized hair, high cheek bones, bulbous eyes and heavy lids that provide a similar synthesis of manner plausibly linking our sculptor to a direct awareness of Mercandante’s work. However, the expressive naturalism imbued in Mercadante’s figures is absent in the austere Gothicism of the present bust whose maker is either contemporaneous to Mercadante, precluding him in favor of an earlier style or altogether a later follower still dependent on Gothic modalities.