Mermaid Astride a Sea Monster

South German (?)
late 16th–early 17th century
Unidentified artist


33.1 cm (13 1/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Metal; bronze with reddish black patina

Not On View





A nude female figure sits astride the back of a monster. Her legs terminate in two sinuous fish tales that extend under and behind her. She looks down to her left over her left shoulder and holds her left hand under her right breast. In her right hand she carries what appears to be a bunch of seaweed. Her hair is drawn up in a knotted braid at the crown of her head, and she wears a semicircular diadem in her hair. Her arms and hands seem disproportionately large in scale compared to her head and upper torso. The monster’s head emerges between the female figure’s legs. He has pointed ears, tufts of hair on his head and face, and a stylized beard. He has bushy eyebrows and an enormous open mouth with large squared teeth, thick lips, and a tongue visible. His two legs are parallel to the ground and have cloven hooves. The cast is extremely heavy and crude with very little cold work in the bronze after casting. It is open from the middle of the mermaid’s back to the area behind her legs and the monster’ s head. The back of the group is hollowed out as though it were meant to serve as a support for a candelabra or a fountain.


painted in black on inside of cavity at the back: Br.26


Until 1884, Joseph Fau collection; March 3-8, 1884, posthumous Joseph Fau sale, Hotel Drouot, Paris, lot 306, to M. Bourgeois, Cologne [see note 1]. Frédéric Spitzer (b. 1815 - d. 1890), Paris; from Spitzer to Oscar Hainauer (d. 1894), Berlin [see note 2]; by descent to his widow, Julie Hainauer, Berlin [see note 3]. By 1912, Eugen Gutmann (b. 1840 - d. 1925), Berlin [see note 4]. By 1934, Fritz Mannheimer (b. 1890 - d. 1939), Amsterdam [see note 5]; 1934, transferred to the Artistic and General Securities Company, Ltd., for Mendelssohn and Co. bank [see note 6]; 1941, sold by the creditors of Mendelssohn bank to Hans Posse for Adolf Hitler [see note 7]; taken to Hohenfurth [see note 8]; June 20, 1945, shipped by Allied forces to the Munich Central Collecting Point (no. 283/10) [see note 9]; March 29, 1946, returned to the Netherlands [see note 10]; October 15, 1952, Mannheimer sale, Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, lot 96, to Herbert Bier, London, and Rosenberg and Stiebel, New York; January 12, 1953, Bier's share sold to Rosenberg and Stiebel; March 23, 1953, sold by Rosenberg and Stiebel to Forsyth Wickes (b. 1876 - d. 1964), New York and Newport, RI; 1965, bequest of Forsyth Wickes to the MFA. (Accession Date: December 24, 1965)

[1] The name of the buyer is annotated in a copy of the auction catalogue (reproduction in MFA curatorial file). The sculpture was attributed in the catalogue to an Italian artist of the 16th century.

[2] After Mr. Hainauer's death, his widow had the collection catalogued and published; see Wilhelm von Bode "Die Sammlung Oscar Hainauer" (Berlin, 1897), pp. 22, 77, cat. no. 108 (Br. 26), ill. on p. 20. The sculpture is attributed in the catalogue to an Italian artist and dated about 1550. It is said to have come from the Spitzer collection, although it was not included in Frédéric Spitzer's posthumous sale of 1893.

[3] She lent it to the "Ausstellung von Kunstwerken des Mittelalters und der Renaissance aus Berliner Privatbesitz veranstaltet von der kunstgeschichtlichen Gesellschaft" exh. cat. (Berlin, May 20 - July 3, 1898) pl. xxxi, no. 10.

[4] See Otto von Falke, "Die Kunstsammlung Eugen Gutmann" (Berlin, 1912), p. 60, cat. no. 174, pl. 46. Attributed to Giovanni da Bologna.

[5] He lent it to the exhibition "Italiaansche kunst in nederlandsch bezit," Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, July 1 - October 1, 1934, cat. no. 914. Mannheimer owned several objects from the Gutmann collection, though how and when he acquired them is not known.

[6] In 1934 Mannheimer's entire art collection was transferred to the Artistic and General Securities Company, Ltd., for Mendelssohn bank, to which he owed a considerable debt, and the bank lent the collection back to Mannheimer. Since he continued to collect works of art, the debt against him grew significantly until 1939, the year of his death.

[7] Due to its own financial difficulties, Mendelssohn bank closed its doors in 1939. Mannheimer's estate was to be sold to pay the debts owed the Dutch state. On the sale to Hitler, see Lynn H. Nicholas, "The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War" (New York: Knopf, 1994), 111-114.

[8] The Nazi regime maintained a depository for works of art at Hohenfurth.

[9] Munich Central Collecting Point inventory card (Property Card 283, Hohenfurth 15/10; National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, RG 260, Microfilm M1946).

[10] Following World War II, art objects that had been sold to the Nazi agency were considered confiscated property and were restituted to their countries of origin for return to their former owners. However, objects from the Mannheimer collection had been sold to benefit the Dutch state, that is, to settle the debts of Mendelssohn bank. For this reason they were not returned to Fritz Mannheimer's widow, but were sold at auction for the profit of the Dutch state. See Nicholas (as above, n. 7), p. 422. Both the Artistic General Securities Company, Ltd., and the curator of the Mannheimer collection, who represented the creditors of the bank, agreed not to make claims for the restitution of rights to the works of art.

Credit Line

Bequest of Forsyth Wickes—The Forsyth Wickes Collection