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An Exceptional Masterpiece Strongbox

On the occasion of MOG | Milan Open Galleries (25-29 October 2021, in coincidence with AMART Milano Art Fair) the Alessandro Cesati Gallery will present an exceptional masterpiece strongbox: a peak in the history of European ironworking, generated by the magical and fantastic combination of the unbeatable German technique with the unsurpassable French elegance.

During the three centuries between the late Renaissance and Neoclassicism, European supremacy in the production of iron objects for civilian use undoubtedly belonged to France and Germany, and unfolded into a multitude of specific productions – from large-scale works such as gates or window grilles to small objects for personal use such as seals, snuff boxes, tinders and so on. However, the highest and most sophisticated skill in this field is certainly expressed in what is defined in French as serrurerie and that is mainly the art of producing keys, padlocks, locks, safes and strongboxes.

The serrurier is – if we may say so – the prince of blacksmiths since his job, more than others, requires not only considerable and specific manual skills but also a precise knowledge and ability to design.

The Strongbox on show is an emblematic example of the genre of Masterpieces, made in Strasbourg around the middle of the 18th century: unique and unrepeatable pieces thanks to which the serruruier can demonstrate all his skills in ironworking – from forging to sculpting, from embossing to piercing and engraving – thus obtaining the qualification of the city guild to exercise the profession on his own.

Any detailed description or comparison will never be sufficient to return the emotion and the amazement that arise from the direct vision: if you want to fully understand the quality and importance of the artifact, the invitation is to look at the work and appreciate it with your own eyes.


An Exceptional Masterpiece Strongbox
October 26 – December 23
from Tuesday to Saturday, h 10-13/15-19
Preview: Monday, October 25 from 18 to 20

The initiative is part of MOG – Milano Open Galleries, the new event for the city of Milan that will be held from October 25 to 29, 2021 in conjunction with the antiques fair AMART. The more than forty galleries participating in the initiative, which include several internationally renowned antique dealers and gallerists, will host for the week of October 25 to 29 a series of exclusive events, meetings and presentations spread throughout the city, as well as extended opening nights of the exhibition spaces.
For more information on MOG:

Alessandro Cesati at AMART Milan 2021

The Alessandro Cesati Gallery will be exhibiting at the AMART exhibition, organized by the Milanese Antique Dealers Association: after the successful editions held in 2018 and 2019, this year’s new show will be hosted once again at the Palazzo della Permanente, from October 27 to 31, 2021.

The Gallery will present to the public of friends and collectors a new selection of Sculptures and Works of art ranging from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century.

There will be a huge Central Italian wooden Wardrobe from the 17th century, with depictions of grapes and vines; a pair of examples of flemish limestone sculpture, reliefs and sculptures in various materials such as wax, walnut, marble, bronze and alabaster; in conclusion, a signed and dated italian bronze mortar, some very rare bronze and iron doorknockers.


Two medium-size bronze sculptures from the italian Novecento will be presented as well, one by Angelo Righetti and another by Italo Griselli.

We look forward to seeing you at booth 38!


October 27 to 31, 2021
Museo della Permanente
Via Filippo Turati, 34 – Milano

Fair will be open:
October 27 to 31: 11 am – 9 pm
Otober 31: 11 am – 7.30 pm


Tefaf Online 2021


Featuring nearly 700 exceptional artworks from over 250 world-renowned exhibitors, this edition of TEFAF Online celebrates the many connections that can be made across the history of human creativity.

Alessandro Cesati Gallery will participate to this second edition of the digital Tefaf Fair, presenting a terracotta sculpture and an ironwork, both showing amazing quality, rarity and uncommon visual impact.

The first work is a gorgeous terracotta male bust, attributed to Giusto Le Court, a well-known baroque sculptor who was born in Ypres, Flanders (now Belgium) and move to Venice around 1655 after being trained also by his father, Jean – a sculptor, too-, Cornelis Van Mildert and spending some time in Amsterdam.

Since his arrival to Venice, he was asked to complete a large number of monumental marble sculptures that he achieved with an unmistakable style, featuring a intense rendering of movement, volumes and shadows. The energy hailing from Le Court’s sculptures is very well represented by this bust: a particularly rare proof in terracotta of his talent. Scholars think that the bust may represent Vulcan, since in Venetian Villas at that time it was very common to find representations of Ancient Greek Gods or Philosophers: the wet turban and the astonishing neck and shoulders muscles may be a clue.

The second work of art presented by Alessandro Cesati gallery is an important example of our traditional keen attention to metal works of art: this Iron Sculpture belongs to a category which has always fascinated us and continues to offer a thrilling source of inspiration for research and study, driven by our almost empathetic predilection for these intriguing artifacts, linked to distant family tales, memories and experiences.

We are showing a surprising Processional Cross, which is to be considered an outstanding example of Spanish ironwork. It shows a superb embossing and sculpting work, particularly appreciable not only in the two central disks of the Cross, representing the Heavenly Jerusalem on the front and the Veronica on the back, but also in the amazingly dynamic heads decorating the Cross finials.

Iron sculptures, undoubtedly less known and celebrated, are perhaps even more interesting and rare because they are absolute uniqueness; they’re masterworks worthy of their place in any ancient or modern Wunderkammer.


Sep 8: invitation only preview
Sep 9–13: general admission

Discover more about the fair and the program on TEFAF website.

A Graceful Virgin of the Annunciation

The present sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary while receiving the words of Archangel Gabriel, with her hands in prayer and kneeling in front of an elegant pulpit with molded profiles. While reading the sacred text, she turns her gaze downwards with an elegant bowing of her head in sign of subdued acceptance of the miracle. The figure stands out against a canopy surrounding the bed.
A remarkable feature of this piece is the mild and elegant woman’s face, showing particularly fine traits and framed by thick, curly hair.

The kind of wood and the size of the sculpture confirm doubtless that this high relief originally belonged to a carved altarpiece, dedicated to the Stories of the Virgin: this kind of reliefs, typical of the northern European culture, represent in very limited spaces a number of biblical episodes with a lively narrative spirit.
Next to the Virgin, on the right side, there must have been a similar sculpture depicting the Announcing Archangel.

Here, the monumental treatment of the drapery and the detail of the Virgin’s hair, loose and long, falling on her chest in two curly locks, are typical elements of a fully Renaissance artistic language, as confirmed by the shape of the lectern and the gown: both can be found, very similarly, in paintings and engravings of Flemish Mannerism.
In fact, this sculpture was certainly made in the Flemish area, perhaps in the southern part of Flanders, which was influenced from the Mediterranean culture, as demonstrated by the large but clear volumes and the natural pose of the Virgin. Further confirmation is provided by Mary’s calm expression, free from that emphasis on details, typical of Flemish art, sometimes exaggerated to the point of caricature. Moreover, the classical style, of Roman inspiration, of the canopy – acting as a cloth of honor – can be found in many images around the second half of the 16th century, supporting the proposed chronology.

Hieronymus Wierix (1563 – before 1619), Anunciation (detail). Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

The Annunciation theme, widespread in the Christian world, describes the moment when the Archangel Gabriel foretells the birth of the Christ Child.
The iconography of the Virgin kneeling, reading and praying, surprised in a domestic setting by the arrival of the Archangel Gabriel, has been attested throughout Europe since the Middle Ages.
The version in which the Archangel arrives behind Mary’s back, and her subsequent sudden turning, shows a narrative device further emphasizing the Archangel’s immaterial essence and the young woman’s complete innocence and devotion.

The iconographic fortune of the Virgin Annunciate in northern Europe is also well attested by the renowned and widespread alabaster reliefs produced in Malines during the 16th century, such as those belonging to many public and private Flemish collections, contemporary to the sculpture examined here.

Two alabaster reliefs with the Annunciation; Mechelen / Malines, 1550-1600. Left: Groot, Kasteel van Loppem | Right: Bruges, Klooster Zwartzusters Augustinessen.

However, in the northern European sculpture panorama, and more specifically, among the typical subjects of wooden altarpieces of this period, the iconography of the Virgin Annunciate is quite unusual.
Among the rare sculptures depicting this particular subject, we can mention the earlier version by Adriaen van Wesel (Utrecht, 1417- after 1490) from the Gruuthusemuseum in Bruges, dating to the late 15th century.

Adriaen Van Wesel, Virgin reading, altarpiece fragment, around 1450. Bruges, Gruuthusemuseum.

In any case, the iconography of the Virgin of the Annunciation certainly owes its success also to the diffusion of prints, such as the one illustrated just above, which is particularly eloquent in the details of the circular canopy.

Upon careful observation, our Virgin still shows some small traces of an ancient polychromy: the skin color on the hands, some blue on the robe and some red on the dress as well as some gold on the robe, on the pulpit and on the book edges.
Compared to the rare examples known through the most important photographic repertories, our sculpture certainly stands out for the quality of the carving, its carefully balanced proportions and its significantly good conservative conditions, given the integrity of the most fragile details.

Southern Flanders
16th century, second half
Cm 30 x 7,5 x 47h

A Stunning Signed and Dated Pharmacy Mortar

This monumental and refined bronze mortar, flared in shape, has a foot adorned with a twisted cord. The body, decorated at the bottom with large acanthus leaves, is embellished, about halfway up, by a double twisted cord; at the same height, in diametrical position, two beautiful heads of young boy facing downwards protrude from both sides, acting as handles to the piece. One side bears the maker’s signature and the date in capital letters: AGOSTINI PERUSINO FECIT A.D. MDCCLIX, while the other side shows a figure of a dancing putto grasping a large Thistle flower, between the letters G and S (probable patron’s initials).

The signature appearing on this beautiful mortar is that of a bronze caster, who made the decorations for the tomb of the bishops in the Perugian cathedral (1765) and the main altar of St. Francesco al Prato church: Niccolò Agostini, a proud artist from Perugia “espertissimo in lavorare di campane, che sono riuscite eccellenti per la pulizia del lavorio, per gli adornamenti e molto più pel suono armonizzante” (very expert in making bells showing excellent quality and decorations and a harmonizing sound), as we can read in the Descrizione della Basilica di San Lorenzo by Galassi (1776); moreover, in 1769 he was commissioned to repair La Lunga, a bell of that same cathedral (Siepi 1822, p. 129).

Mortars are still today a typical symbol of pharmacology, and the large-sized pharmacy mortars like this one, although almost never really used – signs of wear are very rare – were objects of great value and representation, made for the most important apothecaries who exhibited them as emblems at the entrance to their pharmacies. This kind of richly decorated and ‘monumental’ mortar is attested only from the 16th century onwards, and was almost always made in bronze: the best alloy for the apothecary because of its resistance, cohesion and for being non-porous.

The putto, grasping almost certainly a Marian Thistle flower, symbolically stands for the botanical and pharmacological knowledge of medicinal plants: the thistle has been known since ancient times for its anti-poisonous and curative properties, especially for the liver and the galbladder.

The shape of an upturned ‘bell’ mortar with figured handles was set towards the end of the 16th century and became a stable paradigm over the next two centuries, as can be seen in the collection of the Museo Storico Nazionale dell’Arte Sanitaria in Rome and, for example, in a dated mortar in Hamburg originally belonging to ‘IOSEPH DE STOCHETIS PHARMACOPOLA AD SIGNUM VITIS AUREA’.

Anton Maria de Maria, Bonze Mortar, signed and dated 1595; h 13,5 cm. Hamburg, Kunstgewerbemuseum

The decorative repertoire of the mortar presented here, with putti and acanthus leaves taken from the classical style, is typical of Central Italy. Also, while signed and dated mortars are quite common in northern Europe, they are much rarer in Italy: hence the great uniqueness and importance of the present piece, making it an artwork of particular interest.

Niccolò Agostini (documented in Perugia, second half 18th century)
Cm 43x 40h

References: Francesco M. Galassi, Descrizione della Basilica di San Lorenzo (1766); Serafino Siepi, Descrizione topologico-istorica della città di Perugia, Volume 1 (1822), pp. 92, 129; Francesco Santi, ad vocem “Agostini, Antonio”, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, I, 1960; Giorgio Lise, Antichi mortai da farmacia, 1975; Ulrich Middeldorf, Fifty Mortars, 15th-18th Centuries, 1981; E. Launert, Der Morser, 1990; Peta Motture, Bells and Mortars, 2001; D. Banzato, Bronzi del Rinascimento. Collezione Vok, 2004.

A Delicate St. Sebastian from Brabant


This intriguing wooden sculpture, still with its original polychromy, depicts saint Sebastian and it has certainly been made in the region of Brabant, a northern-European cultural area with renowned for an important tradition in wooden sculpture from the Middle Ages onwards.

The Saint is tied to a tree trunk with ropes, the left arm fastened over his head and the right one lowered and bended backwards; a green and red cloth surrounds the hips, the knees are slightly bending, and the feet are placed in opposite directions against each other over a rounded base. The peaceful face – with gentle almond-shaped eyes, arched eyebrows and a tiny mouth – turns downwards and is framed by hair, neatly divided by a central parting and falling to the sides of his face in short curls.
Many elements lead to attribute this sculpture to the circle of the “Master of Koudewater” (Meester van Coudewater), an artist active in Northern Brabant during the second half of 15th century and of whom no more than about ten sculptures are known.

St.Sebastian_Pose Comparison

Left: Master of Koudewater, Saint Michael, Uden, Krona Museum | Right: Master of Koudewater, Saint Agnes, Private Collection.

Although the pose of this Saint Sebastian is more open and dynamic if compared to other works attributed to the sculptor, there is a remarkable resemblance of the hair of both our sculpture and other two works by the Master of Koudewater: a saint Michael housed in the Krona Museum in Uden and a saint Agnes in a private collection.
There are also further comparable features: the small rounded base is similar to the one in the Uden sculpture, as well as the shape of the mouth, the arched eyebrows and the straight nose; other similarities can be underlined in the rendering of the hands; all three sculptures are carved in walnut wood, a timber that the Master of Koudewater preferred over oak, which is much more commonly used in this area; finally, these three works have approximately the same height: saint Sebastian, cm 81; saint Michael, cm 96; saint Agnes, cm 73.


The sculpture undoubtedly depicts saint Sebastian, an officer in Emperor Diocletian’s army (284 – 313), who, after being shot with arrows, survived thanks to the care of the pious Irene, but then, showing up before Diocletian, he was executed. His bones are buried in the roman catacombs of St Peter and St Paul – where we find one of the earliest examples of his representation. As described in the Legenda Aurea, during the plague of the year 680, the Saint’s relics were transferred to Pavia, miraculously bringing the pestilence to an end. From then on, Saint Sebastian was worshipped as one of the saints of healing, together with saint Roch and saint Christopher.
While in the Middle Ages the Saint was portrayed as a soldier in armour, from the second half of the 14th century onwards there was a radical change in iconography: saint Sebastian became a beautiful young man, with an ethereal and virginal appearance. Indeed, the god Apollo himself, invoked in cases of plague, in the representations of the classical period offers his splendid naked body to vulnerability, just as the martyr’s body is offered, defenceless, to martyrdom. The torture, however, immediately acquires a metaphorical meaning: the wounds on the body are the only visible trace of the sufferings of the spirit. Of course, the opportunity to depict the body of a half-naked man was offered to Renaissance artists only by the figures of Christ and Saint Sebastian; the Saint, in particular, who often assumed a twisted pose, became the bearer of the most intense results of anatomical rendering.


Returning now to our sculpture, the curious detail of the feet, crossed like in a dance move, appears around 1470 mainly in the German area and responds to the taste for twisted bodies typical of northern Europe; here, however, the softened anatomy highlighting the volumes of the muscles undoubtedly leads us towards the Northern Brabant area, characterised by a taste for rounded features and softened edges. The origin of this pose can be traced back to a couple of works by two of the greatest graphic artists of the late 15th century: an engraving by Martin Schongauer (c. 1435 – 1491) and a silverpoint drawing by Hans Holbein (c. 1460-1524), which has been reinterpreted in the beautiful reliquary now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The crossed and counterposed pose of the legs is undoubtedly an iconographic device alluding to instability, fragility and failure.

St.Sebastian_Pose Comparison

Left: M. Schongauer, St. Sebastian (engraving), New York, Metropolitan Museum. | Centre: Silver Reliquiary of St. Sebastian, c. 1497, London, Victoria and Albert Museum. | Right: H. Holbein, St. Sebastian (silverpoint drawing, 1497-1500), London, British Museum.

Vulnerability and openness to martyrdom are also evoked by another particular formal feature: the raised arm revealing the chest, often its left side, the seat of the heart. This pose implies the impossibility of protecting the vital organs and it’s a gesture deeply rooted in the imagery of Western culture, running through the entire history of art, from ancient Greece to the present day (Gury 2005). Among the best known depictions of saint Sebastian with his left arm raised, one can mention the marvellous picture by Hans Memling (ca. 1475? Brussels, Musée des Beaux-Arts). At closer inspection, one can also notice that in Memling’s painting and in most of the depictions of the Saint made during the second half of the 15th century, the right arm of St. Sebastian, i.e. the lowered one, is normally tied to the trunk at wrist level. On the other hand, in Holbein’s drawing, as in our sculpture, the right arm is tied to the trunk at elbow level, demonstrating a further link between the German master’s invention and the sculpture examined here.


Left: H. Memling, The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, c. 1475, Bruxelles, Musée des Beaux-Arts (detail) | Right: H. Holbein, St. Sebastian, London, British Museum (detail).

In conclusion, it is interesting to note that in this rare Northern Brabant sculpture, saint Sebastian’s naked, sweet and beautiful body is in no way marred or humiliated by martyrdom and wounds, thus representing the solidity of faith and hope in suffering and in any kind of adversity (Darriulat 1998).


Master of Koudewater, workshop of
Northern Brabant
Late 15th century
Polychromed walnut wood
Cm 81 h

Study by Nicolas Hendrickx, M.A. Courtauld Institute of Art

References: L. Réau, Iconographie de l’art chrétien, 3 chap. 2, Presses Universitaires de France, 1958; Saint Sébastien. Rituels et figures, exhibition catalogue (Paris, Musée National des Arts et Traditions Populaires, 25 November- 16 April 1984), ed. by J. Cuisinier, Paris, 1983 ; J. Darriulat, Sebastien, le renaissant : sur le martyre de saint Sébastien dans la deuxième moitié du Quattrocento, Paris 1998 ; Van Liebergen,, Beelden in de Abdij. Middleeuwse kunt uit het noordelijk deel van het hertogdom Brabant, Nijmegen, 1999; W. Prins, ed. by, Deftige Devotie. Museum voor religieuze kunst Uden, Uden, 2003; F. Gury, De l’amazone blessée à Saint Sèbastien, in Iconografia 2005. Immagini e immaginari dall’antichità classica al mondo moderno, Rome 2006, pp. 335-351.

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