Lot 6
  • 6

THE MASTER OF SAINT VERONICA | A portable triptych Centre panel: Virgin and Child enthroned before a golden mandorla, with God the Father and angels in adoration above, Saints John the Evangelist, Barbara, Christina, Catherine, Mary Magdalen and John the Baptist seated in a semi-circle below Inner wings: The Crowning with Thorns, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection and The Ascension Outer wings: The Way to Calvary

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
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  • The Master of Saint Veronica
  • A portable triptych Centre panel: Virgin and Child enthroned before a golden mandorla, with God the Father and angels in adoration above, Saints John the Evangelist, Barbara, Christina, Catherine, Mary Magdalen and John the Baptist seated in a semi-circle below Inner wings: The Crowning with Thorns, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection and The Ascension Outer wings: The Way to Calvary
  • oil on oak panel
  • central panel: 70 x 32 cm.; 27 1/2  x 12 1/2  in.two wings, each: 70 x 16 cm.; 27 1/2  x 6 1/4  in.


Rinckenhof, Cologne; Franz Becker (d. 1882), Deutz;

By inheritance to his brother Johannes Anton Becker, Deutz;

The latter’s posthumous sale, Cologne, Heberle, 26 October 1882, lot 55 (as Meister Wilhelm von Köln);

Art market, Mühlhaus am Rhein, Germany, by 1895;

Consul Eduard Friedrich Weber (1830 - 1907), Hamburg (inv. no. 923);

His deceased sale, Berlin, Lepke, 20 February 1912, lot 4, for 11,100 Marks to Böhler (as Meister Wilhelm von Köln);

With Julius Böhler, Munich;

Probably acquired from the above by Richard von Schnitzler (1855–1938), Cologne;

Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (1876–1967);

Heinz Kisters (1912–1977), Kreuzlingen, Switzerland;

His sale ('Collection formed by the late Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, the property of Heinz Kisters), London, Christie's, 26 June 1970, lot 17;

Bought back and thence by descent to the present owner.


Cologne, Kunsthistorische Ausstellung, 1876, part 4, no. 2; Düsseldorf, Kunsthistorische Ausstellung, 1904, no. 8 (as Cologne Master circa 1410);

Cologne, Messehalle A, Jahrtausendausstellung der Rheinlande, 16 May – 15 August 1925, no. 13;

Cologne, Wallraf- Richartz Museum, Die Kölner Maler von 1300–1430, no. 19;

Cologne, Wallraf- Richartz Museum, Stefan Löchner, Meister zu Köln: Herkunft, Werke, Wirkung, 3 December 1993 – 27 February 1994, no. 34;

Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, The Art of Devotion in the late Middle Ages in Europe 1300–1500, 26 November 1994 – 26 February 1995, no. 26;

Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle, Lust und Verlust. Kölner Sammler zwischen Trikolore und Preussenadler, 28 October 1995 – 28 January 1996, no. 286;

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, The Road to Van Eyck, 13 October 2012 – 10 February 2013, no. 29.


E. Firmenich-Richartz, 'Wilhelm von Herle und Hermann Wynrich von Wesel: eine Studie zur Geschichte der altkölnischen Malerschule', in Zeitschrift für Christliche Kunst, vol. VIII,1895, pp. 305–06; J.J. Merlos (ed.), Kölnische Künstler in alter und neuer Zeit, Düsseldorf 1895, pp. 962–63;

K. Aldenhoven, Geschichte der Kölner Malerschule, Lübeck 1902, pp. 70 and 443, reproduced plate 16 (as School of Meister Wilhelm);

K. Woermann, Wissenschaftliches Verzeichnis der alten Gemälde der Galerie Weber in Hamburg, Dresden 1907, pp. 6–7, cat. no. 4;

K. Woermann, Galerie Weber, Hamburg, 1912, p. 3, cat. no. 4, reproduced plate 2 (as Meister Wilhelm von Köln);

F. Burger, H. Schmitz and J. Beth, 'Die Deutsche Malerei', in Burger-Brinkmanns Handbuch der Kunstwissenschaft, vol. II, Berlin Neubabelsberg 1913, p. 380, reproduced;

E. Lüthgen and W. Bombe, Die Sammlung Dr. Richard von Schnitzler, Leipzig 1918, pp. 36–37, reproduced p. 35, fig. 1;

G. Dehio, Geschichte der deutschen Kunst, vol. II, Berlin 1930, reproduced p. 316;

K. Schäfer, Geschichte der deutschen Malerei, 1923, p. 10, reproduced plate 16;

W. Worringer, Die Anfänge der Tafelmalerei, Leipzig 1924, pp. 284–85, reproduced fig. 95;

K.R. Langewiesche, Maria im Rosenhag: Madonnen-Bilder alter deutscher und niederländish-flämischer Meister, 1935, reproduced plate 4;

K.H. Schweizer, Der Veronikameister und sein Kreis. Studien zur Kölnischen Kunst um 1400, Würzburg 1935, pp. 61–62, reproduced fig. 16;

O. von Förster, Die Sammlung Richard von Schnitzler, Munich 1931, pp. 21–22, no. 2, reproduced plates 2 and 3;

A. Stange, Deutsche Malerei der Gotik, vol. III, Berlin 1938, pp. 61–62, reproduced figs 66 and 71;

Thieme-Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, vol. XXXVII, 1950, p. 344;

U. Ulbert-Schede, Das Andachtsbild des kreuztragenden Christus in der deutschen Kunst, dissertation, Munich 1961, pp. 45 and 120;

H.T. Musper, Gotische Malerei nördlich der Alpen, Cologne 1961, pp. 14 and 17;

A. Stange, Kritisches Verzeichnis der deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer, Munich 1967, vol. I, p. 25, no. 38;

P. Pieper, 'Meister der heiligen Veronika', in Kindlers Malerei Lexikon, vol. V, Munich 1968, p. 667;

P. Pieper, 'Zum Werk des Meisters der Hl. Veronika', in Festschrift für Gert von der Osten, Köln 1970, pp. 85–94;

F.G. Zehnder, Der Meister der Hl. Veronika, dissertation, Bonn 1974, p. 131, cat. no. 6;

G. Bott and F. G. Zehnder (ed.), Vor Stefan Lochner. Die Kölner Maler von 1300– 1430, exh. cat., Cologne 1974, pp. 84–85, cat. no. 19;

F.G. Zehnder, Die Kölner Malerschule, dissertation, St Augustin 1981, pp. 74-84, 131–32, cat. no. 6;

F.G. Zehnder, Katalog der Altkölner Malerei, Cologne 1990, pp. 125, 153, 195, 228, 317, 319, 493, 497 and 506;

Stefan Lochner, Meister zu Köln: Herkunft, Werke, Wirkung, exh. cat., Cologne 1993, p. 298;

H. van Os, The Art of Devotion in the late Middle Ages in Europe 1300–1500, exh. cat., Amsterdam 1994–95, p. 87, plates 10a and b;

H. Kier and F.G. Zehnder, Lust und Verlust. Kölner Sammler zwischen Trikolore und Preussenadler, Cologne 1995, p. 627, cat. no. 286, reproduced plate CXXXIX;

B. Corley, Painting and Patronage in Cologne 1300–1500, Turnhout 2000, pp. 92–93, reproduced pp. 94–95, figs 61 and 62 (as Master of Saint Veronica, painted ‘during the first decade of the painter’s career in Cologne, which accords with a date after 1409 implied by a dendrochronological examination of the wood’);

S. Kemperdick and F. Lammertse, The Road to Van Eyck, exh. cat., Rotterdam 2012, p. 175, no. 28, reproduced pp. 176–77.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: The Master of Saint Veronica. This painting is on an oak panel in three pieces, with two side panels attached by long, apparently original, metal hinges. The central panel has had one vertical crack, probably quite early, but all parts of the triptych have remained remarkably strong and flat overall, with no other trace of instability. The single crack runs three quarters of the way up the centre from the base, through the arm of the Child and the head of the Madonna. This has been secured behind with small wooden plaques, perhaps in Switzerland in the first half of the last century, which uncovered the original, unprimed, textured surface of the oak, with the remains of old priming followed by later similar layers of warm earth priming. The whole triptych has clearly long stabilized itself, with no further trace of movement of any sort. The Virgin and Child enthroned before a golden Mandorla with God the Father and Angels in adoration above, Saints John the Evangelist, Barbara, Christina, Catherine, Mary Magdalen and John the Baptist seated in a semi circle below. There is a fine craquelure throughout. The gold leaf has been worn in some areas, but the delicate punching and intricate decoration of the central halo and jeweled crown of the Madonna are exquisitely preserved overall. The gold leaf above surrounding the image of God the Father has had more wear, as has His face, however the many heads of angels on either side of the Madonna and Child have remained finely intact overall despite minute imperfections. The Madonna and Child have quite a narrow line of retouching running through the cheek of the Madonna and the arm of the Child, with incidental thinness in places nearby in the two central figures. The delicate ultra marine drapery of the Madonna has been largely finely preserved, as have the exceptionally beautiful embroidered drapery of the group of saints below, which remain magnificently intact virtually throughout, including minute detail such as the lamb in St John's arms, or the jeweled and lettered crowns of some of the saints, and the vivid lead tin yellow drapery glazed in deep pink. On the two wings it is clear that the Resurrection and the Ascension on the right has for some reason been more vulnerable and has been more worn than the Crucifixion and the Crowning with thorns on the left wing, which is in extremely good condition in almost every detail. Some of the care and attention devoted undoubtedly to the triptych over centuries is faintly visible under ultra violet light. The central crack clearly has fairly recent retouching, while ancient wear and traces of far older varnishes, dirt or retouching are not caught by UV, although the eye can see rather more. The dramatic outer image on the closed triptych of Christ Carrying the Cross, may be expected naturally to have had rather more accidental wear and there is indeed more retouching visible under ultra violet light. This in mainly in the background, and often around the edges. However the evident loss of original paint in the upper part of the cross and in the hair is invisible under UV, and clearly under very old varnish. Some minor other old retouching in the upper background for instance is also scarcely visible. However the vivid brushwork of the head of Christ is very finely intact. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This beautiful and intensely personal triptych was painted in Cologne around 1410. It is one of the earliest and most complete surviving works of art of its type, and certainly one of the finest examples of early German Gothic art still in private hands. In its refinement and exquisite detail it exemplifies the contemporary taste for beautiful courtly works of a small scale. Although the precise identity of its creator has not yet convincingly been determined, the Master of Saint Veronica was undoubtedly the most important of the painters who introduced this International Court style to Cologne at the beginning of the fifteenth century, thus laying the foundations for the Cologne school under the great Stefan Lochner a generation later. The triptych, still intact, has the format of a portable altar, the inside panels framed, the reverse sides unframed for ease of transport. When closed the triptych shows a remarkably stark image of Christ on the path to Calvary. With the wings open, the central panel depicts the Virgin and Christ Child seated in a meadow, surrounded by six saints. Unusually, in this representation, Mary is both the Virgin of Humility – seated on the ground – and the Queen of Heaven, encircled by a host of angels with God the Father at the summit. The Virgin in the central panel is set against a gilded mandorla that dominates the painting. Her halo is particularly fine, and within it her crown decorated with pearls and jewels. The mandorla’s highly decorative quality is emphasised by intricate punch work of lines that radiate from a second halo. Brocade robes and decorative embellishments abound, particularly in the figures of the female saints, who are seated around her and all bear their traditional attributes. The four female saints are from left to right: Saint Barbara, holding a model of the tower in which she was incarcerated; Saint Christina of Bolsena, with one of the instruments of her torture; Saint Catherine, beside the wheel to which she was bound and the sword of her execution; and Mary Magdalen, her ointment jar held delicately between her fingers. The names of the two more prominent saints are spelt out in pearls on their crowns.1 Behind this quartet are Saint John the Evangelist and Saint John the Baptist.

When open, the wings depict four scenes from the Passion, chosen deliberately to emphasise, on the left, Christ’s suffering, and on the right, his Resurrection. The Crowning with Thorns is surmounted by The Crucifixion; and, on the opposite side, The Resurrection is painted below The Ascension. The attributes of the male saints in the centre panel would seem to underscore this distinction between Christ’s mortality and his divinity. Saint John the Evangelist holds the chalice with its Eucharistic associations, while Saint John’s lamb is emblematic of Christ’s role as redeemer. The gesture of the Christ Child grasping the golden pearls of his mother’s rosary is at the centre of the painting and is emblematic of atonement. The iconographical intent behind this selection of Passion scenes and Saints would seem to be intensely personal, and may very well have been the specific choice of the patron for whom the triptych was painted. The penitential message of the altarpiece offers a message of both hope and salvation and thus echoes the writings of Thomas à Kempis, who encouraged his followers to 'assume your cross and follow in Jesu’s footsteps, and you shall enter Eternal Life!'.2

This exceptionally rare work is unanimously attributed to the Master of Saint Veronica. Almost nothing is known about the artist, only that he worked in Cologne in the early years of the fifteenth century. Although some attempts have been made to identify him with recorded Cologne masters, such as Herman de Cologne (fl. 1389–1417) or Herman Wynrich von Wesel (d. c. 1413) none has been successful. His name derives from a painting showing Saint Veronica holding the sudarium, originally displayed in the church of Saint Severin in Cologne and now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (fig. 1).3 His work is distinguished by the singular characteristics of the physiognomy of his Saints with their demure, sloping, heavy-lidded eyes and pursed lips, and with the rich colours and decorative patterns of his designs. It has been suggested that he may have worked for a period as an apprentice in the workshop of Conrad von Soest (1370–1422) in Dortmund in Westphalia, for not only do the two artists share several distinctive facial features in their figures but they even have in common some aspects of their workshop practice such as punch marks. From Conrad von Soest it is thought that the Master of Saint Veronica may have introduced the colours ultramarine and lead tin yellow into German practice at this date. The scenes of the Crowning of Thorns, The Resurrection and The Ascension in the present work are derived from compositions of the analogous scenes in von Soest’s Niederwildungen Altarpiece of 1403, now in the Stadtkirche of Bad Wildungen.4 

This painting shares a number of features with other works attributed to the artist. The facial features of the Saints recall those of the small angels in the Master’s aforementioned eponymous panel in Munich. The scene of the Crowning with Thorns on the left wing adopts the tiled and chequered floor that we see in the same picture. The Master of Saint Veronica uses this device to give a strong sense of spatial recession, a practice rarely explored in this decorative style. The range of colours in the present work, particular the reds and warm pinks, bear close comparison with the Master of Saint Veronica’s Calvary today at the Wallraf Richartz Museum in Cologne (fig. 2).5 The scene on the wing of the triptych omits the throng around the Crucifix and instead centres on the figure of Christ. In pose and rendering, the treatment of the figure bears a strong similarity to the Cologne Calvary. In the present picture, it is particularly worth noting the thoughtful attention given to the gesture of the Virgin, who is shown holding the edge of her headdress as if about to dry her tears. A similar figure occurs in the artist’s Crucifixion today at the National Gallery of Art, Washington (fig. 3).6 The same air of tender devotion in which the relationship between the Virgin and Child is explored with particular charm occurs in another triptych, the so called Virgin with the Sweet-pea Blossom in Cologne (fig. 4).7

Although the Master of Saint Veronica was probably not a native of Cologne, his style and its courtly idiom was clearly perfectly in accord with the aspirations of the patrician classes in a city that had only recently entered a period of peace and stability. His works embodied the International Courtly Style that was elegant and worldly on the surface but was also able to convey the solemnity of its religious content. In the early 1400s Cologne society was concerned with displays of wealth and rank, spectacles of chivalry and the splendour of their churches. They were just as preoccupied with death, eternal punishment and the hope of salvation. Commissions of religious works of art such as this important triptych reconciled the conflicting concerns of profanity and penitence. The Master’s ductile handling of oil paint, the delicacy of his colouring and his softly modelled forms, all of which are exquisitely displayed in the present work, answered this need for a hugely decorative and chivalric style that nevertheless answered the spiritual conscience of the newly wealthy. 

1 Kemperdick and Lammertse in Rotterdam 2012, p. 175.

2 Quoted in Corley 2000, p. 92.

3 Corley 2000, reproduced fig. 45.

4 Corley 2000, reproduced fig. 47.

5 Corley 2000, reproduced fig. 55.

6 Corley 2000, reproduced fig. 48.

7 Corley 2000, reproduced fig. 59.