Follow the Stories | San Antonio, TX (2008)
Medieval, Renaissance, or a Later Replica?
Is this silver statue an original late 15th-century piece, or is it a replica made in the 17th century?
John, the owner of the statue, believes the style of the curls indicates it's an original, while the appraiser wonders whether its pouty mouth is appropriate for a statue made in the Middle Ages.
If John ever wants to sell his statue, he'll need a more in-depth appraisal to determine its true age.
Appraisers appearing on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW often feel confident they know whether an object is real or a replica. But sometimes what they feel most certain about is their uncertainty.
That's what happened in San Antonio in the summer of 2007, when a man named John came in with a tabletop silver statue depicting Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a Christian of the late 3rd century who, according to legend, was martyred by the Roman Emperor Maxentius around 305 A.D. She subsequently became known in the Catholic church as the patron saint of philosophers and preachers.
Is this statue a 15th-century original? The answer to that question could be worth about $100,000.
John had bought the statue 30 years ago at an antiques show in Houston, and he was told by the seller that the elegant statue was made sometime in the late 15th or early 16th century — the late Middle Ages, rather than in the Renaissance that was soon to come.
What John Thought
John, himself a collector of Renaissance pieces, believed the story. "He [the seller] was of the impression that it was a late medieval European statue, western European," John explained to appraiser Catherine Baron, an expert in decorative fine arts and silver based in Tucson, Arizona. "And I've drawn the conclusion that it is probably either French or Flemish. And that it probably dates from circa 1450 to about 1500." John said he thought it was a Gothic piece.
"And what made you think that?" Catherine asked him.
John replied that it was the style of the tightly curled hair, the drapery, and the way the statue was carved that convinced him it originated in the 15th or 16th century. "I'm confident, but I'm not the ultimate authority," John admitted.
What Half-a-Dozen Appraisers Thought
Neither is Catherine. Her specialty is silver, although she says she doesn't know enough to be able to detect a 15th- or 16th-century original silver statue from a 17th-century version. That's why she consulted with a handful of other appraisers who work with ROADSHOW to see what they thought. They agreed that some of the features, such as the hair and the drapery, were typical of Renaissance statuary. But other features, such as one of the stones in St. Catherine's crown, didn't appear as old. And stylistically, Catherine's mouth, some appraisers thought, also looked to be from a later age. If she had been done in the late 16th century, "her mouth would have been wider," Catherine said. "It would have been less of a pouty, Clara Bow-type of a mouth."
In a later conversation, Catherine also noted that such an early piece of Renaissance silver would be extremely rare, as most silver statues have been melted down in the intervening centuries and the silver sold.
"We feel that it's possibly a 17th-century replica of this Renaissance piece," Catherine told John. "Not necessarily a forgery or a bad attempt. Just an artist's rendition." But Catherine and her peers were not absolutely certain.
The Next Necessary Step
"I really feel that this is a piece that needs some more research, some more homework than we were able to give it here," Catherine said. "It needs to have some really good curators do some research on it."
More than an accurate reckoning is at stake. If the statue is a 17th-century version, it's worth from $4,000 to $5,000 at auction. But if it's from the 15th or 16th century, then Catherine believes it would sell at auction for as much as $100,000. In the intervening months, John says he has shown the piece to other collectors of this period of statuary, who agree with his assessment. But he knows that if he ever planned to sell it, his assertions and those of his collector friends wouldn't be enough to guarantee he'd get top dollar for it.
"If I ever sell it," John says, "I'll have it appraised."
See the San Antonio, Texas (2008) page for a list of all appraisals from this city.
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.