A Long-Lost Religious Panel Set a $4 Million Auction Record for Northern Renaissance Artist Bernhard Strigel

The work was part of an altarpiece in Memmingen and has a companion in the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Berhard Strigel, Ange thuriféraire vêtu d'une tunique jaune. Courtesy Artpaugée.

A regional French auction house just made €3.5 million ($4 million) on a religious panel recently attributed to the Northern Renaissance painter Bernhard Strigel. The single-lot sale on Friday, February 4, was organized by the Toulouse auction house Artpaugée after the work was appraised and attributed by experts from the Paris-based Cabinet Turquin.

The painting depicts a thurifer (or incense-bearing) angel, and the sale took place in a Carmelite chapel. In a drama worthy of one of New York’s marquee evening sales, seven international bidders duked it out over the phones for 15 minutes, elevating the final price to €3,472,000 with fees. When the hammer came down, it set a new record for Strigel, more than three times the German painter’s previous record, achieved in 2008 for a companion piece from the same altarpiece that is now in the collection of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The sale was followed by a round of applause from those in the room for the two young auctioneers, Pauline Marigne and Géraldine Martres, who discovered the work during the course of a routine insurance valuation of objects from the estate of a client’s mother last July.

“In the middle of a rather classic set was this beautiful angel,” Maringe told Artnet News. “When I discovered it, I was immediately struck by the very high pictorial quality, by its sense of volume, of the treatment of the space around the central figure, by the preciousness of the details. It was in a remarkable state of preservation. By turning it over, I was able to confirm the old dating, thanks to the magnificent wooden panel. It was definitely a high-quality painting.”

Infrared scan of Bernhard Strigel, Ange thuriféraire vêtu d’une tunique jaune. © Atelier Catherine Polnecq.

Maringe sent it to Cabinet Turquin—the firm led by the French Old Master expert Eric Turquin, which has become renowned for recognizing masterpieces since it discovered a Caravaggio sleeper six years ago—for appraisal. 

“When I saw the photo, I knew that I was before an extraordinary work of art, captivating,” specialist Philippine Motais de Narbonne from Cabinet Turquin said, recalling how she agreed to take on the project with Turquin’s team of experts and researchers. She recognized that it was similar in subject, material, and size to the Abu Dhabi panel depicting a thurifer angel—which she had studied when living in the UAE. Scientific analysis, including infrared and X-ray scans revealing the underdrawing, confirmed her suspicion that it was part of the same altarpiece, likely the Altarpiece of the Deposition that Strigel produced in 1521–22 for the Church of Our Lady in Memmingen, which was broken up at a sale in 1813, and which is yet to be fully recovered. 

“When the sale is well prepared, a painting will sell for the highest price,” Motais de Narbonne said, adding that the result was “very satisfying” for the long research undertaken by Turquin. For the auctioneers, the sale proves that  major works do not need to be offered at the main houses in Paris in order to attract serious bidders. “Today, a painting of this quality can be sold just as well by provincial auction houses such as ours,” Margine said.

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