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

Triptych: The Holy Visage of Christ

Oil on panel, 31 x 24 cm (central), 31 x 12 cm (each ewing)
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Master Bertram is one of the first artists in the history of German art who is known to us by name. His style exercised a major influence on the Hamburg school of painters. His work exemplifies the artistic position of German painting around the beginning of the 15th century, in which medieval traditions continued to live on in the prevalence of gold backgrounds, a lack of spatial setting, an emphasis on line and the use of simple compositions.

In the central panel of this triptych, the majestic Holy Visage makes a strong impression, which the painter achieves by giving it a certain realism, modelling the volumes through subtle tonal gradation; the down-cast eyes, in particular, add expressiveness to Christ's face. The side panels depict two musical angels, who convey a sense of movement and have well articulated bodies, even though they retain the decorative character which links them to Gothic art. Without great technical display, the artist creates the impression that the figures are firmly placed on the ground and are three-dimensional forms. This is achieved through the movement of the draperies and a slight but successful gradation of light and shade, made possible through the use of oils, which were more flexible than tempera.

The side wings fold into the centre to close the triptych, and hence are also decorated on the back, in this case with an Annunciation.