PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Bregenz, Künstlerhaus Palais Thurn und Taxis, Meisterwerke der Malerei aus Privatsammlungen im Bodenseegebiet, 1 July – 30 September 1965, no. 63 (as Meister Hans);
Graz, Stiftung St. Lambrecht, Gotik in der Steiermark, 1978, no. 96 (as the Master of the St. Lambrecht Votive Altarpiece);
Vienna, Orangerie des Unteren Belvedere, Wien 1450: der Meister von Schloss Lichtenstein und seine Zeit, 8 November 2013 – 23 February 2014, no. 21 (as Austrian School, circa 1435–40);
Karlsruhe, Badisches Landesmuseum and Constance, Konzilsgebäude, Das Konstanzer Konzil. 1414–1418: Weltereignis des Mittelalters, 27 April – 21 September 2014, nos 6a and 6b (as by the Master of the St. Lambrecht Votive Altarpiece).
K. Öttinger, Hans von Tübingen und seine Schule, Berlin 1938, p.24;
A. Stange, Deutsche Gotische Malerei: Österreich und der ostdeutsche Siedlungsraum… 1400–1500, vol. XI, Berlin 1961, p. 16, reproduced plate 17 (as Meister Hans);
K. Löcher, 'Berichte Nürnberg', in Pantheon, vol. 6/XXI, Munich 1963, p. 396;
A. Stange, Deutsche Gotische Malerei 1300–1430, Königstein 1964, pp. 17, reproduced fig. 75 (detail of the Nativity, as Meister Hans);
A. Stange, Deutsche Gotische Malerei: Österreich und der ostdeutsche Siedlungsraum… 1400–1500, vol. XI, Munich 1969, p. 16, only The Nativity reproduced plate 17 (as Meister Hans);
P. Strieder (ed.), Sammlung Heinz Kisters, Altdeutsche und Altniederländische Malerei, exh. cat., Nuremberg 1963, p. 8, no. 30, reproduced plate 2 (as Meister Hans);
G. Biedermann, in Gotik in der Steiermark, exh. cat., Graz 1978, p. 124, no. 96 (as the Master of the Saint Lambrecht Votive Altarpiece);
G. Biedermann, Katalog Alte Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz 1982, pp. 13–14 (as the Master of the Saint Lambrecht Votive Altarpiece);
J. Oberhaidacher, Die Wiener Tafelmalerei der Gotik um 1400. Werkgruppen, Maler, Stile, Vienna 2012, pp. 191, 202, 355f., no. 30 (as the Pseudo-Darbringung Master);
V. Pirker-Aurenhammer, Wien 1450: der Meister von Schloss Lichtenstein und seine Zeit, exh. cat., Vienna 2013, pp. 220–221, cat. no. 21, reproduced;
Das Konstanzer Konzil. 1414–1418: Weltereignis des Mittelalters, exh. cat., Karlsruhe 2014, pp. 72–73, cat. nos 6a and 6b, reproduced p. 73 (as the Master of the St. Lambrecht Votive Altarpiece).
The iconography here is inspired, not by the Gospels, but by the mystical Revelationes of Saint Bridget of Sweden (1303–1373), which enjoyed enormous popularity across Europe after her death. The Virgin Mary is shown kneeling in prayer before her Son rather than reclining. The new-born Christ Child lies not in a normal cradle of straw, but in one of stone, filled with bright green grass. Around Him kneel three angels with long and elegantly tapering wings and robes of different hues of red, green and cloth of gold, their hands all arranged in different expressive gestures. Above them flies a fourth angel. Behind Mary two shepherds stand beside a wicker fence, one holding a staff and horn. Only the traditional figure of Saint Joseph is absent. This particular arrangement seems to have been prevalent in Vienna and the surrounding regions in the early fifteenth century. A very similar arrangement, for example, may be found in a manuscript by the anonymous Master of the Speculum humanae salvationis which was illuminated in Vienna in 1432 and is now in the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid.1 An important early example in panel painting can be found in a small picture of around 1420–25 by the Master of the Vienna Adoration, today in the Belvedere in Vienna,2 and, slightly more contemporaneous to the present work, in one of the panels painted by the Master of the Albrecht Altar for the High Altar of the Carmelite Am Hof in Vienna around 1438–40.3 The latter belonged to a larger cycle representing The Life of the Virgin and it is very possible that the present work would also have formed part of a similar cycle, but if so, no other panels from it have survived.
Baldass was the first to link this panel to the Saint Lambrecht Votive altarpiece, a remarkable Gothic panel depicting the victory of the Hungarians over the Turks in the presence of the Virgin, painted around 1425–30 and formerly in the abbey of Saint Lambrecht in Styria, and now in Graz, Alte Galerie (fig. 1). The precise identity of its author is not known, but it is likely that his workshop was based in Vienna and included more than one hand. His works display an elegant style which fuses the International Gothic of Bohemia with that of contemporary Italian painting as well as that of Cologne. Stange grouped a number of works under this hand, whom he named 'Meister Hans' and suggested a date of execution for the present picture around 1435–40.4 Stange’s attribution has not met with universal agreement; while Biedermann accepted it, Oberhaidacher instead attributes this Nativity to the ‘Pseudo-Vienna Master of the Presentation of Christ’, and assigns it an earlier dating to the mid-1420s. There is no doubt, however, that the present picture has many points in common with other accepted works by the Master of the St. Lambrecht Votive Altar, and it seems reasonable to assume that they come from the same workshop. These include, for example, a pair of smaller panels depicting The Crucifixion and The Way to Calvary in the Stadtmuseum in Wels (fig. 2).5 The former panel in particular reveals a number of figures, such as Saint Simon Cyrene and Pontius Pilate (seen in profile in his palace), who are echoed by the shepherds in the present panel. The long delicate fingers of Saint Simon of Cyrene, with their highlighted tips, find counterparts in those of the kneeling Virgin and her angels. The shepherd with a horn here is also very similar to the figure of Saint John beneath the Cross in panels of the Crucifixion in the Belvedere in Vienna and elsewhere.6 Very similar lush patterned vegetation is found in all of these works, including in the Votive altar itself. Stange thought that the Agony in the Garden on the outer side or verso of the panel was the work of a different hand, presumably an assistant. Pirker-Aurenhammer notes its strong similarity to another Ölburg panel by the Master of the Saint Lambrecht altar from the abbey of Saint Lambrecht, now in the Joanneum in Graz,7 but does not support a full attribution to the Master for this or the Nativity, regarding the whole panel as the work of an as yet unidentified Viennese Master of around 1435–40.
1. Reproduced in the exhibition catalogue Vienna 2013, p. 132, under cat. no. 1/8.
2. Exhibited Vienna 2013, cat. no. 2, reproduced.
3. See A-F. Köllermann, '‘Nach Monstranzischer gesichtung und formirung’: Anmerkungen zu Gestalt und Konzeption gotischer Altarretabel', in Wien 1450: der Meister von Schloss Lichtenstein und seine Zeit, exh. cat., 2013, pp. 26–27, figs 11–12.
4. The name derives from the inscription ‘Johan’ found on a Crucifixion in Linz and a Calvary in Vienna. See, for example, Stange 1969, VI, plate 15 for the former. Both this connection, and subsequent attempts to identify this master with either the elusive Vienna painter Hans von Tübingen (fl. 1433–1462) or the sculptor Hans von Judenberg (fl. 1411–1424) have been problematical.
5. Inv. nos 29.626 and 29.627, panel 61.6 x 47.1 cm. Exhibited Vienna 2013, cat. no. 18.
6. Inv. no. 4903, panel 80.2 x 56.8 cm. (framed). Exhibited Vienna 2013, cat. no. 19.
7. Inv. L13. G. Biedermann, Katalog Alte Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz 1982, pp. 13–14, reproduced fig. 24. This forms the verso of another Way to Calvary of very similar format to those in Vienna and Wels.
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