15th-century altar panel, stolen November 13, 1979 York Art Gallery was returned after appearing in the auction. It was the experts at Duke’s Auctions who noticed the possible connection to the long-lost York panel and removed it from the auction. They asked the Registry of Art Losses to look into its history and concluded that it was indeed a panel stolen 44 years ago.
The Duke put the panel up for auction after inspecting the contents of a house in the Southampton area, but the seller was unaware of the panel’s provenance, having inherited it from his father. Schwinge believes that the original collector most likely bought it from the market or auction house without knowing its provenance.
“We told our daughter that the painting was stolen 50 years ago and she was very happy that it was just returned to the museum,” Schwinge said. “Money never changed hands. We are very grateful to her for being so straightforward.
A double-sided painting of the Nuremberg School against a gold background was one of a pair donated to the museum by Francis Dennis Lycett Green in 1957. He purchased them from a London art gallery in 1956 and donated them to the York Museum. He was its most important benefactor, donating his entire 150-piece painting collection to the York Art Gallery in 1955.
On the front side of the altarpiece, three hierarchs-bishops are depicted against a golden background. The figure on the left is Saint Nicholas. He is holding a book with three golden balls depicting Santa throwing gold at the windows of three impoverished women in exchange for a dowry. In the middle is Saint James of Tarentaise. To the right is St. Herman of Paris holding the key given to him by St. Peter in a prophetic dream.
On the verso, on the left, Saint Lawrence is depicted holding a grill (representing his martyrdom by roasting). In the center is Saint Sebald, the patron saint of Nuremberg, holding a model of the church that bears his name. On the right side, the Archangel Gabriel is depicted holding a folded banner, with part of the greeting of the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Ave Maria Gratia Plena).
Pair of panels, which is still in the York Art Gallery, depicts Dominican saints. On a golden background, St. Catherine of Alexandria on the left, St. Barbara in the center and St. Dominic is on the right. On the other side, Saint Catherine of Siena on the left, Saint Ursula in the middle and Saint Thomas Aquinas on the right.
There is no information about the owners of the panels before 1930, when they first appeared at an auction in London. German scholars attribute the panel to the workshop of Hans Pleidenwurff, one of the foremost artists active in Nuremberg at the end of the 15th century. The York panels began as wings of a larger altarpiece, possibly that of Catherine of Siena, made by the Pleidenwurff workshop for the Dominican monastery at Nuremberg.
The panel is currently undergoing examination and conservation at the Art Gallery of York. When the work is completed, the prodigal panel will be reunited with its sibling.