Leonhard Kern German

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 520

The calm solid stance, substantial anatomy representation, and subtle movement of this compact little figure are characteristic of styl of Leonhard Kern (1588–1662), who from 1620 onwards specialized in carving statuettes destined for the Kunst- and Wunderkammern, or cabinets of art and curiosities, at the courts of Europe. Finely carved with marvelously precise detail of hair and facial expression, this statuette must certainly be an autograph piece by the master himself.

This little girl’s shortened limbs and long torso are typical features of disproportionate dwarfism. It is disturbing to realize that during the early modern period, pleasure, both high and low, was taken in so-called “anatomical rarities” like dwarfs, giants, hermaphrodites, and twins. And they could be considered beautiful. Indeed, Kern’s choice of pose perceptively brings out the curving elegance of her features, the choice of wood enhancing their natural beauty. There was no early modern space better for the appreciation and enjoyment of the strange and wonderful than the Kunstkammer. Perhaps more valuable than marvels produced naturally were realistic imitations of them by the hand of skilled artisans. Not a literal record of life, the naturalism of Kern’s miniature representation of a miniature person is an artistic creation that emphasizes his technical and creative skills. A doubly virtuoso Kunstkammer object, the sturdy, delicate little body of this figure would have enchanted early modern collectors with its strange beauty, impressed upon them the magnitude of Kern’s skill, and stimulated both their intellect and amusement.

The statuette’s quality is underlined by its provenance. Bought by a friend of Honoré de Balzac, Théodore Dablin, the statuette remained with the famous Parisian collector until his death in 1861, when part of the collection was passed to his god-daughter and part bequeathed to the Louvre. Dablin’s acquisition of this exquisitely carved girl marks him out as an early connoisseur of Kern, since her quality ranks her far above many of the other surviving statuettes of children made by this master-sculptor and his workshop.

Girl, Leonhard Kern (German, Forchtenberg, Hohenlohe 1588–1662 Schwäbisch Hall), Pearwood (Pyrus communis); pedestal: blackened wood, German, Schwabisch-Hall

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