Master of the Crucifixion Triptych
- Master of the Crucifixion Triptych
- The Birth of the Virgin
- oil on panel
Friedrich Jacob Gsell (1812-1871), Vienna;
His deceased sale, George Plach, Vienna, 14 March 1872, part of lot 229 (as school of Michael Wolgemut);
Nicolaus von Scanavi, Vienna;
Anonymous sale, Weinmüller, Munich, 30 September to 2 October, 1964, part of lot 91, to Dr. Rudolf Kremayr, for DM 60,000;
Thence by descent in the Kremayr family;
Private collection, New York
O. Benesch,"Der Meister des Krainburger Altars," in Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, vol. VII (1930), pp.189-191, reproduced p. 191, fig. 56;
O. Pächt, Österreichishe Tafelmalerei der Gotik, Vienna 1929, p.72, as the Master of the Braunau Bäckeraltar;
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Katalog der Gemäldegalerie, 2nd edition, Vienna 1938, p. 107, under no. 1800, as Circle of the Master of the Vienna Schottenstift;
"Meister des Kreuzigungstriptychons, in Thieme-Becker, vol. XXXVII, Leipzig 1950, p. 191;.
A. Stange, Deutsche Malerei der Gotik, vol. 13, Munich and Berlin 1961, p. 48;
O. Benesch, "Der Meister des Krainburger Altars," in Otto Benesch, Collected Writings, ed. by E. Benesch, vol. III, German and Austrian Art of the 15th and 16th Centuries, London 1972, pp. 192-93, reproduced pl. 214;
G. Biedermann, Katalog Alte Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum: Mittelalterliche Kunst: Tafelwerke – Schreinaltäre – Skulpturen, Graz 1982, p.124 under no. 30.
The present work and the following, The Death of the Virgin (lot 101), are among the earliest known works by the Master of the Crucifixion Triptych. The artist is named for a small altarpiece in the St. Florian Abbey near Linz, the central panel of which is a Crucifixion, with a view of the city of Vienna. Instead of the Holy Land in the far distance, he has painted the unmistakable tower of the Stephansdom and the impenetrable Kaiserburg rising above the surrounding buildings. The Crucifixion Master was influenced by the Master of the Vienna Schottenstift, one of the most important painters in Vienna in the second half of the fifteenth century. The Schottenstift Master had a large and productive workshop of which the Master of the Crucifixion Triptych is generally thought to have been an important part.1 Aside from this, we know little about the life of the Master of the Crucifixion Triptych or who he was.2
The Birth of the Virgin and The Death of the Virgin are from a series of The Life of the Virgin, one of the Crucifixion Master's first projects, and as such are among the most important Austrian pictures to have come onto the market in recent years. They predate the St. Florian Crucifixion and must have been part of a larger and more complicated commission, perhaps based on the Vienna Schottenstift altarpiece, which had in its interior, sixteen panels illustrating scenes from The Life of the Virgin. The Crucifixion Master's altarpiece was broken up and dispersed, and only eight extant panels from it have been identified: The Presentation of Mary in the Temple and The Visitation, both in the Abbey of St. Florian, Linz; The Annunciation and The Adoration of the Magi, formerly in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; The Nativity, in a Viennese private collection; The Coronation of the Virgin, in the Joanneum, Graz; and The Birth of the Virgin and The Death of the Virgin, the two panels offered here.3
In comparing the present work to The Birth of the Virgin by the Schottenstift Master (fig. 1), we can see the extent to which the Crucifixion Master was influenced by the earlier work and the degree to which he asserted his own personality. In both panels St. Anne lies in a bed set diagonally across the picture plane and is attended by three women; meanwhile her husband Joachim sits at a table in a small room at the rear right, reading a book while the women care for the infant Virgin. The colors of the Crucifixion Master's panel are somewhat cooler and bluer than those of the Schottenstift Master's and the figures, though of similar type and proportion, are rather livelier in their gestures and movements. The greatest differences, however, are in the moods of the two works. While the earlier panel opens into the dark interior of a kitchen, the Crucifixion Master has placed a window in St. Anne's room that looks out onto a contemporary street, with tall red-roofed buildings reminiscent of the view of Vienna in the St. Florian Crucifixion that dwarf the three tiny figures outside. While there are few specific details to distinguish the setting, this glimpse of everyday life outside creates a sense of comfort missing from the enclosed interior from the Schottenstift Altarpiece. The attendants in the present work seem more tender and engaged than in the other, where they have no actual physical contact with St. Anne or the Virgin. Here one of the women lifts the heavy head cloth off St. Anne's forehead so that she can wipe her face, while the second holds the infant Virgin and the third tests the temperature of the water in the bath. The room seems more crowded as the women bustle about helping St. Anne and the infant, and the space itself not quite so orderly, but the Crucifixion Master was willing to abandon some of the rationality and restraint of his predecessors to create a more intense and emotional atmosphere.4
1. The difficulty in pinning down the younger master's role in the workshop is largely due to the lack of agreement as to the identity of the Master of the Schottenstift himself. Various authors have discerned two distinct hands, in addition to the contributions of assistants, within the work usually attributed to him. Most recently R. Suckale, Op. cit., vol.1, pp. 185ff, has identified him as Johannes Siebenburg and a follower of Hans Pleydenwurff. For a summary of the earlier opinions see G. Biedermann, Op. cit., pp. 124-125.
2. Both Stange and Benesch have suggested that he might have been called Johannes, because of that name appearing in the embroidery of the figure holding the flower to the right of the Cross in the Crucifixion Triptych in the St. Florian Altarpiece. However, R. Suckale, Die Erneuerung der Malkunst vor Dürer, vol. 44 of Historischer Verein Bamberg, Bamberg 2009, vol. 2, p. 255, note 487, dismissed that theory.
3. The Annunciation and The Adoration of the Magi were included in the 1938 catalogue of the paintings in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, op. cit., but more recent literature lists them as being in an Austrian private collection, see Biedermann, Op. cit.
4. Benesch 1972, Op. cit., pp. 192-93.