MASTER of the St. Bartholomew Altar
(active 1470-1510 in Cologne)

The Descent from the Cross

Wood, 227 x 210 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The painting originates from the church of the Val de Grâce in Paris.

The outstanding painter in Cologne at the turn of the century, this unknown artist is named after the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece now in Munich, and is also the author of a much smaller version of the Deposition, now in the National Gallery, London. In both the Paris and the National Gallery pictures the scene appears to take place within a carved and gilded shrine, mimicking the sculpted German tabernacles of the fifteenth century with their Gothic tracery and painted statues.

This paraphrase of Rogier's Deposition (Prado, Madrid) entirely reinterprets its model. Instead of creating mourners who are rather austere and dignified, this artist has striven for uninhibited emotional expression and a lavish wealth of depiction. With the figure of the Magdalene on the right, clutching at her heart and looking out of the picture, he introduces a figure appealing directly to the viewer's feelings. In this unrealistic scene, the painter does not shrink from making the corpse of Christ enormously large, in accordance with his significance, while His arms, obeying the imperatives of the composition, are of different lengths.