Bernardi or Wallbaum?

by Michael Riddick

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Fig. 01: A silver plaquette of the Adoration of the Shepherds by Matthias Wallbaum, ca. 1610-15 (private collection)

A small relief of the Adoration of the Shepherds was first attributed to the Italian gem engraver, Giovanni Bernardi by Wilhelm von Bode in 1904.[1] The assessment was shortly followed by Jacob Hirsch in his 1908 auction catalog of the Arthur Löebeccke collection[2] and also by Ernst Bange in the 1922 reassessment of the Berlin collections.[3] In the 1940’s Ulrich Middeldorf cataloged Sigmund Morgenroth’s example of this plaquette as by Bernardi, though commented on its pictorial quality as less typical of Bernardi’s accepted output.[4] Jacques Fischer, following previous assessments, later cataloged another example from the Andrew Ciechanowiecki collection as by Bernardi.[5]

Ingrid Weber was the first scholar to diverge from the relief’s association with Italy and instead linked it to Augsburg, suggesting a late 16th century German origin while citing the ambit of sculptors like Matthias Wallbaum, Hans Jacob Bayr and Samuel Hornung.[6] Weber noted the presence of variations upon the design without a discussion of them or their possible origins in a single studio. Most recently, Giuseppe and Fiorenza Toderi acknowledged Weber’s assessment but rejected it in favor of maintaining an Italian attribution to Bernardi, suggesting instead that later German artists could have been inspired by Bernardi’s presumably original design.[7] [8]

While the literature has largely remained skewed toward an Italian origin with Bernardi, Weber’s suggestion holds weight with new evidence of a previously unpublished cast of the relief (FIG. 01) and a formerly uncited reliquary house altar at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Inv. KG375).

Fig. 02: Ebony and silver reliquary house altar, ca. 1620, attributed to Matthias Wallbaum (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Inv. KG375)

The impressive altar, probably created for the chapel of a royal court, lacks any maker marks but is ascribed to the sphere of Matthias Wallbaum, ca. 1620, on stylistic grounds. [9] A contemporary and fine silver cast of the Adoration of the Shepherds is set along the altar’s predella (FIG. 02).

While the reliquary already evinces Wallbaum’s manner, the previously unpublished plaquette reproduces a finer original bearing Wallbaum’s hallmark of a tree or flower within a shield[10] and an Augsburg assay stamp, ca. 1610-15 (FIG. 03).[11] Both markings are found also on a silver plaquette of Spring and a Lion Hunt (inner lid) on a casket by Wallbaum at the British Museum (Inv. WB.218) and on a house altar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Inv. 17.190.823), struck on the back of a finial at its base (FIG. 04).

Fig. 03: Micro-photo of hallmarks reproduced on a cast of the Adoration of the Shepherds, by Matthias Wallbaum, ca. 1610-15 (private collection)
Fig. 04: Micro-photo of hallmarks struck on a house altar by Matthias Wallbaum at the MET (Inv. 17.190.823)

Although a later cast,[12] the previously unpublished plaquette preserves Wallbaum’s hallmarks present on a lost or unidentified original,[13] confirming the relief is his workmanship rather than Bernardi’s.

A cursory examination of later aftercasts, like those from the Morgenroth collection or the Bargello, indicate several casts of this relief must have been produced from a model in Wallbaum’s studio. For example, the textures of the clothing or the wood grain chased onto the extended roof vary and suggest the output of several contemporary casts treated variably and typical of standard workshop practice. Evidence of such prototypes can be observed from another contemporary and fine example formerly on the art market (FIG. 05).[14]

Fig. 05: A silver plaquette of the Adoration of the Shepherds by Matthias Wallbaum, ca. 1610-15 (John Endlich Antiquairs)

An expanded version of the relief, known by additional examples in public and private collections, like one formerly belonging to Walcher von Molthein’s collection (FIG. 06), features an arched top with the addition of clouds and angels. The realization of this version is lackluster and is evidently the freehand production of a follower. Wallbaum had several contemporary copyists who modeled their designs after his own.[15] A prototype for this expanded version can be found on a 17th century reliquary offered also on the private market (Fig. 07).[16]

Fig. 06: A bronze plaquette of the Adoration of the Shepherds, after Matthias Wallbaum (ex-collection, Walcher von Molthein)
Fig. 06: Detail of an ebony and silver house altar, after Matthias Wallbaum, 17th century (private collection)


1. Wilhelm von Bode (1904): Konigliche Museen zu Berlin, Beschreibung der Bildwerke der Christlichen Epochen, vol. II, Die Italienischen Bronzen. Berlin, Germany; no. 1191, p. 113

2. Jacob Hirsh, Sammlung Arthur Löbbecke Braunschweig. Kustmedaillen und Plaketten des XV bis XVII. Hirsch auction, 26 Nov 1908, No. 822, p. 95

3. Ernst Bange (1922): Die Bildwerke des Deutschen Museums. Die Bildwerke in Bronze und in anderen Metallen. Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin; no. 865, p. 115

4. Ulrich Middeldorf (1944): Medals and Plaquettes from the Sigmund Morgenroth Collection. Donnelley & Sons Co., Chicago, 319, p. 45; now located at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum (AD&A) UC Santa Barbara (Inv. 1964.512)

5. Jacques Fischer (1969): Sculpture in Miniature: The Andrew S. Ciechanowiecki Collection of Gilt and Gold Medals and Plaquettes, Shenval Press, UK; no. 422

6. Ingrid Weber (1975): Deutsche, Niederlandische und Franzosische Renaissanceplaketten, 1500-1650. Bruckmann Munchen, Germany; No. 450, p. 232

7. Giuseppe and Fiorenza Vannel-Toderi (1996): Placchette Secoli XV-XVIII, Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Studio per Edizioni Scelte, Firenze, Italy; no. 88, p. 53

8. The Toderi’s suggestion is not without reason, as Wallbaum did model a Pieta relief for the Altar of Marie Louise Gonzaga after a popular Roman design attributable to Jacopo Cornelis Cobaert. For a discussion of this relief see Michael Riddick (2017): A Renowned Pieta by Jacob Cornelis Cobaert (

9. See Regina Löwe (1975): Die Augsburger Goldschmiedewerkstatt des Matthias Walbaum. Munich, Berlin; no. 2 and Daniel Hess, Dagmar Hirschfelder (2010): Renaissance – Barock – Aufklärung: Kunst und Kultur vom 16. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert (Die Schausammlungen des Germanischen Nationalmuseums); pp. 313-14

10. For a discussion on the identity of Wallbaum’s hallmark see Helmut Seling (1980): Die Kunst de Augsburger Goldschmiede 1529-1868. 3 vols., Munich, No. 1060, p. 111 or Marc Rosenberg (1922): Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen, Frankfurt, 3rd ed., Vol. I, no. 428.

11. For a discussion of the Augsburg assay, ca. 1610-15, see H. Seling (1980), op. cit. (note 10), no. 31 or M. Rosenberg (1922), op. cit. (note 10), No. 130

12. Probably a later cast, ca. 1800, from a French or Viennese foundry, to be discussed in a future article (Michael Riddick, Later Cast Plaquettes from a French or Viennese Foundry [])

13. The presence of a flange featured on this cast suggests its mold was probably taken from the original silver relief by Wallbaum.  Notwithstanding the fine detail of the relief itself, crisp enough in detail to be derivative of an original cast.

14. Formerly with the dealer John Endlich Antiquairs, the Netherlands.

15. For an example of such imitation, compare the formerly noted desk casket at the British Museum (Inv. WB.218) against an example by one of Wallbaum’s followers, Ulrich Boas, at the Victoria & Albert Museum (Inv. M.474-1956).

16. Hampel Auction, 2006 June 30, Lot 828

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