The largest single owner collection to come onto the art market since 2008 is to be offered at Olympia Auctions
on November 24, 2021. This one-of-kind single owner collection started in 1911 and comprises more than 200 Renaissance and later bronze plaquettes and medallions. Estimates range from £200-£3,000 and the collection is being sold without reserve.
A large part of this collection belonged to Mr Alfred Spero, a leading dealer in Works of Art during the first half of the 20th century, who collected the pieces over many years, but principally starting before the First World War in 1911 until 1936. Primary sources of the collection include the Melleket collection, the Henry Oppenheimer collection sold at Christies in 1936, Dr Walter Hildburgh - a great benefactor of the V&A, Sir Thomas Barlow - a post war collector and Whitcombe Greene from Bath, who bequeathed some plaquettes and many medals to the British Museum (1933).
The Renaissance plaques and plaquettes form the majority of the collection, small reliefs decorated on one side, drawing inspiration from Christianity, literature, history and mythology. Often cast in multiples, they decorated furniture, caskets, smaller objects such as inkwells and some more fashionable items, such ashat badges, sword hilts and scabbards. Plaquettes and medallions were also cast for a connoisseurs private delight, fitting comfortably in the hand and are the type of objects that would have been found in a Cabinet of Curiosities. They began with the reproduction of antique gems and cameos in collections in Rome.
The collection excitingly includes work by Galeazzo Mondella (Moderno) 1467-1528, perhaps the greatest artist of the genre, who produced only plaquettes and Andrea Briosco (Il Riccio) 1470-1532, who was a principal bronze sculptor of the Renaissance. There are a small number of plaquettes from Germany and the Low Countries. The small group of medallions in the collection feature kings and emperors and cardinals as well as Bible stories.
The current vendor, Bernard Kelly, acquired the basis of the collection between 1967 1969 from Alfred Spero, before adding to it, mainly from The Adams Sale (Bonhams, London, 23 May 1996) and the Pope-Hennessy Sale (Christies, New York, 10 January 1996).
A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of this collection will benefit Westminster Abbey as a continuation of Olympia Auctions Fundraising initiative for Cultural Institutions.
Matthew Barton says of the collection On a much smaller scale than the great doors of the Baptistry in Florence by Lorenzo Ghiberti, these works of art had no public function nor the plaudits from Michelangelo, nevertheless they correspond and reflect the highly regarded opinion towards the artistic virtuosity of bronze relief during this period of rebirth and revival of classical art and literature in Italy.
Such objects are very collectable; they are affordable, in good condition and easy to carry and display.