MASTER of Flémalle
(b. ca. 1375, Valenciennes, d. 1444, Tournai)
St Veronicac. 1410
Oil on wood, 151,5 x 61 cm
Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt
This panel is one of three paintings in Frankfurt which derive from a dismantled retable whose original appearance is not known. Probably the retable had double wings on each side. The interior could have been painted. The three panels are also the representative work of the artist from Tournai known as the Master of Flémalle, identified as Robert Campin.
This side panel represents St Veronica who holds the cloth marked with the face of Christ, while the other the standing figure of Virgin Mary who suckles the infant Christ. In the background of the side panels the artist uses a background of brocade hangings to produce a space without depth. The third panel, probably from the reverse side of the retable, represents the Holy Trinity in grisaille: God the Father supports the dead Christ and shows the body to the whole community; the Holy Spirit is present in the form of a dove.
St Veronica appears delicate and psychologically isolated in her emotion. The lower part of the figure, where her clothes are gathered into elegant folds, is three-dimensional, but around the shoulders it is made to look comparatively flat, so as not to stand out too much from the entirely non-spatial, strongly patterned brocade of the background. The folds of her garments form patterns and matching correspondences, for instance where the end of her green sleeve on the right is echoed by the end of the red cloak hanging to the ground. There is deliberate beauty of form in the elaborate cloth framing Veronica's face.
Veronica is standing on a comparatively deep piece of natural ground that ends against a flat and entirely unrealistic wall that seems very close to the figure at the top, thus the illusion of a shrine or niche is given. In other words the saint is displayed as if in a carved shrine.