MASTER Bertram
(b. ca. 1345, Minden, d. 1415, Hamburg)

St Peter (Grabow) Altarpiece

Oak, 266 x 726 cm
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

The high altarpiece for St Petri in Hamburg exemplifies the shape and format of an early complex retable. The polyptych consists of a corpus (or central shrine), two sets of wings, a predella, and, at one time, a wooden superstructure as well. Unlike a fixed altarpiece, those fitted with wings were opened and closed, usually to complement liturgical practices. The interior, displayed on special feast days, was the most precious setting. The corpus was frequently reserved for polychromed sculpture.

Mater Bertram's central Crucifixion is flanked by rows of saints and prophets, most identified by their accompanying attributes. The middle setting, comprising the exterior of the two inner wings and the inside of the two outer wings, was usually exhibited on Sundays. These form a tableau of twenty-four painted scenes.

The altarpiece is a collaborative product involving Master Bertram, the designer, who with assistants painted the panels and polychromed the statues which an unknown Hamburg sculptor carved.