(SPANISH FORGER). ~ A Knighting Ceremony or Joan of Arc. [?Paris: c.1890-1920].
Painted panel (410 x 350 mm) on oak. Small portion of lower left corner cut away and replaced (before painting by the forger) consequent cracking to paint surface along those lines, one or two other areas of minor flaking, rubbed (perhaps deliberately) along top and right hand edge.
A SPECTACULAR PANEL BY THE ANONYMOUS ARTIST NOW KNOWN AS THE SPANISH FORGER, a prolific and notorious forger working in Paris at the opening of the twentieth century. The subject of a monograph, several articles and a recent exhibition, the forger was famously identified by Belle de Costa Greene of the Morgan Library in the 1930s after numerous manuscript miniatures and panels were observed in American and European collections, often purchased as medieval originals. The forger worked mainly on parchment, sometimes reusing or modifying existing manuscript pages, but over 100 more works on panels have also been identified. Now immediately recognisable and collected in their own right, the Spanish Forger’s works nonetheless found themselves, as medieval originals, into private and institutional collections from whence they are occasionally still uncovered.
In this substantial panel, the central figure is surrounded by soldiers and courtly ladies in typical Spanish Forger style. This figure faces us directly, hand on heart, brow just covered by a short fringe of wavy hair. A figure to the left buckles a sword, while another kneels to the right fastening spurs. Almost all of the artist’s hallmarks are found here: elongated figures in courtly dress, theatrical hand gestures, saccharine faces, pointed footwear, a fairytale castle and rocky landscape in the background and lollipop trees with tapestry-like foliage. The paint surface bears a typical (and carefully contrived) craquelure, and a small portion has been cut from a lower corner and reattached, before painting, both typical Spanish Forger traits.
Former Morgan curator, Willian Voelkle has devoted a lifetime to identifying works by the Spanish Forger and currently lists 119 panels (this example is Voelkle 119, the latest addition) and 285 miniatures on vellum. Despite this, the name of the forger remains unknown to this day.
As Voelkle has demonstrated, the forger was well aware of the tastes and the market of his time and his subjects reflect this. Not only were his productions attractive, but also highly saleable in a European and American market which had recently rediscovered French primitive artists. Chivalric subjects and French national heroes were a speciality of the forger and this piece is no exception. Two very similar pieces exist, a panel and a miniature with almost identical layouts, and Voelkle suggests a source for the scene in Lacroix’s book La vie quotidienne au moyen age (1877). He calls it simply, ‘A Knighting Scene’, but it has been suggested that the subject is potentially Joan of Arc, who was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920—posthumous celebrity which conveniently coincided with the apogee of the Spanish Forger’s productivity.
For the comparable examples (a panel and a miniature) see Currie, Saverwyns and Vanwijnsberghe, ‘The Spanish Forger Exposed’ in Manuscripts in the making: Art & Science, II, eds. Panayatova and Ricciardi, 2008, chapter 16. ?