The biblical subject of Cain murdering Abel, the first sons of Adam and Eve, was visited on atleast three other occasions by Simon Troger, arguably the most important ivory carver specializing in combining wood with ivory for small scale sculpture in the 18th century. An identical example to this group is in the Bavarian National Museum in Munich (see fig. 7), where it is mentioned in the museum catalogue that the subject was taken from Salvator Rosa’s (1615-1673) painting of The Death of Abel in the collection of the Galerie Doria-Pamphili in Rome (see fig. 8). Another possible graphic source, however, may very well be a print by Lucas van Leyden (1494-1538) (see fig. 9) of the same subject dated 1524.1 The positioning of the figures, the emphasis on the musculature of the men and the painful expression of Abel, are all key elements which are clearly reflected in Troger’s group.
The present example is almost identical to the one in Munich differing only in the position of the lamb, and the club being held by Cain appears to be a wooden replacement, whereas ours has the original ivory club. Troger also carved this subject in an all wood version (signed by the sculptor, and in presently in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and in an all ivory version (but without altar and lamb or glass eyes) which was formerly in the Spitzer Collection (fig. 10) sold in Paris on April 28, 1893.2 This was later in the collection of Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Bergé and offered by Christie’s in Paris on February 25th, 2009, lot 512. The Bavarian national museum has another Troger group of the same subject, but is treated less dramatically and does not appear to by inspired by any particular graphic source.3
Large and high quality groups by Troger are extremely rare. Most examples known are in the collections of European museums. The European Decorative Arts Company had one such example (A Tyrolean Beggar Group) which is now in the Sapir Collection, New York.4
1 Auckland City Art Gallery, Old Master Prints from the Monrad Collection, May, 1960.
2 Château-Musée de Dieppe, Ivoires du musée du Louvre 1480-1850 une collection inédite, Somogy Éditions D’Art, 2005. publishers, New York, 1987.
3 R. Berliner, Die Bildwerke des Bayerisches National Museum, Bildwerke in Elfenbein, Kochen Hirsch-und-Steinbockhorn, Augsburg, IV. Abteilung, 1926, cat. no. 511, p. 239.
4 Scott Defrin, Works of Art in Ivory, European Decorative Arts Co., New York, CA Design, Printers, Hong Kong, cat. no. 4, page 14.
Eugen Von Philippovich, Simon Troger und andere Elfenbeinkunstler aus Tirol, 1961, Schlern-Schriften, Universitats verlag, Innsbruck.
Christian Theuerkauff, Sammlung Reiner Winkler, Band I, 1984.
Eugen Von Philippovich, Elfenbein, published by Klinkhardt & Biermann, Munich Band XVII, 1982.
Ivory, An International History and Illustrated Survey, Harry Abrams Inc.