Lot 104
  • 104

The Master of the Mass of Saint Gregory

50,000 - 70,000 USD
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  • The Master of the Mass of Saint Gregory
  • The Miraculous Mass of Saint Gregory the Great
  • charged with the coats-of-arms of the Venediger and Remees families
  • oil on panel


With J. Vermeulen, Amsterdam, 1926 (as Lucas Cranach I);
Anonymous sale, Cologne, Lempertz, 23 March 1927, lot 44 (as Lucas Cranach I);
Anonymous sale, Frankfurt, Bangel, 17 May 1927, lot 9 (as Lucas Cranach I);
Anonymous sale, Munich, Helbing, 19-20 July 1927, lot 226 (as Lucas Cranach I);
Anonymous sale, Stuttgart, Nagel, 21 March 1998, lot 848;
Private collection;
By whom sold, London, Christie's, 2 December 2008, lot 16;
There acquired by the present collector. 


M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach, Berlin 1932, p. 97, cat. no. 358f;
M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, London 1978, p. 160, Sup. 6F.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work on panel is now flat and the paint layer is stable. Some strong cracking has occurred in the upper right; one crack extends through the round bald head of the figure on the right, running from the top of the work to the bottom. There is one other diagonal crack that has been repaired, starting in the candle in the upper left and running diagonally through the kneeling figure in the lower left. The retouches are a slightly sloppy and lacking. One can see numerous white specks in the lighter colors of the clouds, in the figure of Christ in the upper left, and in the lighter colored robes in the lower right. While there has been paint loss in the lighter colors and to the cracks in the panel mentioned above, there is still great detail and clarity in the figures. If the retouching was continued to address these white specks, the work would certainly benefit.
"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 painting illustrates the miraculous story of Saint Gregory the Great (circa 540-604), one of the Four Doctors of the early Catholic Church who also served as Pope from 590-604.  Legend has it that once while saying Mass, Gregory became aware of a congregation member who doubted the Transsubstantiation, that is to say, when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.  As he prayed for a sign to convince the doubter, Gregory beheld a vision of Christ as the Man of Sorrows surrounded by the instruments of his Passion rising from the altar.  

The Mass of Saint Gregory became a popular subject among artists during the Reformation because it illustrated the validity of the Doctrine of the Transsubstantiation. One of the earliest and most popular images of the subject was Albrecht Dürer's print of 1511 (fig. 1).1 This print would have been widely circulated and understood throughout Europe, and many artists seem to have been indebted to the originality of his composition, including that of the present work.2 The artist of this painting has imbued his interpretation of the tale with a curious dynamism, depicting characters and objects from the biblical narrative of the climactic last days of Christ within a billowing cloud. Next to the serene figure of Christ crowned with thorns float the disembodied heads of Pontius Pilate with his wife, Caiaphas, and Judas as well as the cock that crowed thrice, the tools of his crucifixion, and angels.  

In their 1932 publication, Friedländer and Rosenberg first identified this painting, which had prior been attributed to Lucas Cranach the Elder, as by an assistant in the Cranach workshop whom they named the Master of the Mass of Saint Gregory.  They recognized the hand of this artist in a number of representations of this miraculous subject, two of which can be found today in the Staatsgemäldesammlung, Aschaffenburg and another in the Ackland University Art Museum, North Carolina, among others.3  When this painting was last sold, Mr. Ludwig Meyer proposed an attribution to one of the most skilled collaborators in the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Dr. Werner Schade confirmed the attribution to the Master of the Mass of Saint Gregory on the basis of photographs.    

Friedländer and Rosenberg's attribution also arose from the idea that almost all paintings by the Master's hand were completed for Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburgh.  In addition to the number of large altarpieces this Master is thought to have completed for the Cardinal and the collegiate church in Halle, he painted three portraits of the Cardinal as well as a portrait of his medical attendant, Dr. Heinrich Stromer.4  Even though the figure of the bishop holding the papal tiara at the right could be that of Cardinal Albrecht, the present work was likely commissioned from the donor at the lower left who kneels next to the coats-of-arms of the Venediger and Remees families.5  

1. See Bartsch 123 (142).
2. Another notable example in reverse of the print and the present work is Adriaen Ysenbrandt's The Mass of Saint Gregory the Great in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, inv. no. 69.PB.11
3.  See Friedländer and Rosenberg, 1979, in Literature, pp. 160-161, supplements 6E, 11 and 12.
4.  Ibid.; p. 162, supplement 16, reproduced.
5.  When the painting was last offered at auction, Mr. Jan van Helmont identified the coat-of-arms as belonging to these families.