According to oral tradition originally from a church in Munich, possibly from the Knöbl family chapel in Sendlinger Strasse; Radspieler family and heirs, Munich, passed down within the family until c. 1985: Acquired by Urban and Pierigal, Munich through the Auktionshaus Ruef, Munich, auction 421, 19 June 1985; Private collection, southern Germany.
Based on their posture and gesturing the putti in flight probably once had a central architectural and iconographical point of reference that, however, is unknown today. Their inclined heads and lowered gaze through oblique, heavy and almost closed eyelids are made to be seen from below. Their artistically styled hair, held in place by ribbons, adorns the chubby-cheeked infants’ heads.
The faces of the two female angels are individually characterised. Ignaz Günther executed the rounded bodies of the well-nourished putti with anatomical precision. The delicately carved feathered wings are, however, more decorative citations than practical flight aids.
Comparisons with other putti by the master craftsman from southern Germany show that these figures may well have been part of an altarpiece or a pulpit. Putti with heads decorated with ribbons and flowers can be found frequently in Günther’s work. The expert Peter Volk writes: “Günther was a great master in the design of all sorts of angels. The putti lack nothing of his singular large figures of angels. He wanted to give even little, individual winged figures a character of their very own …”
In the 1980s when, as our research has revealed, the putti appeared on the art market in Munich, the original paint had been covered in gold. This came from their use as decorative objects on a festive carriage in 1888, along with two other angels by Ignaz Günther. To celebrate the centenary of King Ludwig I a parade was organised in Munich. According to the progamme of events an oval portrait of the monarch in a ‘wonderful, richly giled frame, borne by flying angels and genies’ adorned the carriage of the ‘painters, gilders, paintmakers and decorative artists’. It continued: ‘An angel and a genie holding the monarch’s crown hovered above the frame’. The gentlemen, Radspieler and Lippert, were responsible for the carriage that was decorated in the late Rococo style. While the carriage was entirely the work of decorative painters, it was expressly mentioned in the progamme of events that the angels and genies on the frame were ‘all … exquisite old figures’.
In his monograph on Ignaz Günther published in 1920 Adolph Feulner aleady mentions that the angels from the Radspieler/Lippert Collection decorating the festive carriage had originally been in the private chapel of the Knöbl family which stood in Sendlinger Strasse in Munich. Hubert Wilm cites the provenance given by Feulner. He points out that the angels had supported a portrait medallion of the monarch during the festive procession to honour King Ludwig. To match the figures and the frame they had been painted a golden-bronze colour. After the purchase of the three large angels from the Radspieler/Lippert Collection by the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in 1932, they were restored and the gold paint removed.
As already mentioned, the court gilder Radspieler and his business partner Lippert decorated the gilders’ carriage with ‘old figures’. Joseph Radspieler not only worked as a gilder but also supplied contemporary furniture and sculpture for Bavarian churches, especially during the second third of the 19th century. In the process, the Radspieler company bought up Baroque altarpieces that were no longer considered modern and, in this way, acquired a stock of religious figures. Feulner may well have learnt of the figures’ Knöbl Chapel provenance from an oral source. A descendant of the Radspieler family, Peter von Seidlein, confirmed – to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum – that his grandparents had acquired a number of decorative objects when the Knöbl Chapel was demolished.
Franz Joseph Knöbl was a member of the council ‘Äußere Rat’, a barber and surgeon. In 1745 he acquired a house, no. 30, in Sendlinger Strasse. That same year he had a chapel built there that was consecrated in 1746. At this time Ignaz Günther was still active in the workshop of Johann Baptist Straub. For this reason, it is therefore unlikely that Günther would have been personally commissioned to carry out the work. Evidence exists, however, that in 1759 Ignaz Günther was in contact with a Mr. Knöbl. In August that year a position for a priest was created for the Knöbl Chapel (the so-called Knöbl benefice). It is quite possible that Knöbl commissioned Günther to redesign the altar on this occasion. The chapel was demolished in 1882. According to oral tradition, the figures came into the ownership of the Radspieler company.
The somewhat convoluted provenance of the two putti with its adventurous twists and turns, from which the art-historical reception of works of the Bavarian Baroque era in the past 250 years can also be read, has largely been reconstructed in the course of our research work. One question, however, remains unanswered – namely the figures’ original iconographical and architectural context that, at present, cannot be solved without further evidence and source material.