PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
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.
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.
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 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.
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