Apr 28, 2022 - Sale 2602

Sale 2602 - Lot 3

Estimate: $ 7,000 - $ 10,000
Descent into Limbo.

Engraving, circa 1475-80. 446x338 mm; 17 3/4x13 1/2 inches. With thread margins or trimmed on the plate mark, with the complete composition preserved. A superb, well-inked impression of this exceedingly scarce, early engraving with strong contrasts.

We have not found another impression of this engraving at auction in the past 30 years.

According to the Art Institute of Chicago, which has in their collection a similar impression of this subject, "In this deeply engraved, drawing-like print, Christ strides over the demolished gates of hell, carrying a victory standard. On the right, Adam and Eve are seen with their righteous son Abel, while Cain has been left in hell for murdering his brother. The demons that represent the torments of hell herald Christ's arrival. These devils, with their scales and reptilian tails, resemble dragons, and have elf-like ears. They seem to be flying, one of them distractedly doing acrobatic tricks instead of blowing his horn."

Oberhuber and Sheehan note that this is likely one of four subjects in an incomplete series of similar size, large upright format engravings done in the studio of Mantegna (1431-1506) and, "Like the others in the series, it was probably executed around the middle of the 1470s by the engraver whom we suspect to have been Zoan Andrea, copied from a drawing by Mantegna dating about two decades earlier. There is a drawing very similar to the print in the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, in the same sense and of nearly equal size. The drawing differs from the engraving in a number of details which it has in common with a painting of the subject by Giovanni Bellini in the Bristol City Art Gallery, for which it clearly served as a model. Byam Shaw consequently considered it to be Bellini's copy of the print, preparatory for the picture. Robertson, on the other hand, has made a number of compelling observations in favor of the attribution of the drawing to Mantegna" (see Early Italian Engravings from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1973, page 208). Bartsch 5; Hind 9.