The master of the Holy Kinship is so-named after the altarpiece in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, showing the Virgin and Child surrounded by numerous family members, flanked by scenes of the early part of Christ’s life. He is not to be confused with a later artist, also from Cologne, known by the same nomenclature. The master was active in the 1420s and 1430s and his style is directly correlated to that of the leading master in Cologne at the time, and the artist who more than anyone else brought the International Courtly Style to Cologne, The Master of Saint Veronica. This panel very clearly demonstrates the artist’s indebtedness to the Master of Saint Veronica, particularly in the facial type, which is analogous with the Veronica master’s Christ from his Crucifixion in Washington, and with the elongated limbs and soft modelling.1 The veil of St Veronica that we see to the right of Christ in the present panel indeed is a direct quotation from that Master’s eponymous work in the National Gallery, London2 and the figure and pose of Christ Himself is clearly indebted to the Veronica Master’s own Man of Sorrows in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.3
Pieper noted the similarity of the present Man of Sorrows to that of the panel of the same subject in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum then, as now, given to the Master of the Holy Kinship.4 Pieper however, like Stange, attributed the present panel to the Master of Saint Veronica himself, both of them dating it to about 1420 and seeing it as far closer in style to the Veronica Master’s version in Antwerp with which it shares an elegance and organic dispersal of the elements of the Passion, unlike the stiffly painted Christ and artificially ordered elements in the panel by the Master of the Holy Kinship in Cologne. Pieper viewed the Antwerp panel as an early example of the Master of St. Veronica and the present example as a later, more poetic, version by the same master. Zehnder (1981) was the first to attribute the panel to the Master of the Holy Kinship.
The Veronica master spawned a vast school of painters in Cologne but the Master of the Holy Kinship, together with The Master of the Heisterbach and the Master of St. Lawrence, is considered chief amongst these. The importance of these painters who, at such an early date, brought sophisticated iconography, costly pigments and exquisite punchwork to painting in northern Europe, cannot be overstated. Cologne was the largest city in northern Europe, it had a cosmopolitan population of painters, illuminators, sculptors and goldsmiths and a patrician class who were sophisticated collectors and knowledgeable patrons of art.
1 See Corley, 2000, reproduced fig. 48.
2 Corley, 2000, fig. 58.
3 See Pieper, 1970, reproduced p. 88, fig. 2.
4 Pieper, 1970, reproduced p. 90, fig. 3.
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