MASTER of the Life of the Virgin
(active 1463-1480 in Cologne)

The Virgin of Mercy

c. 1480
Tempera on oak panel, 129,5 x 65,5 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

The picture is of calm, monumental simplicity, a good painter's achievement demonstrating great skill; despite the few colours the picture does not look empty or poor. The abundance of whites brings into pleasing relief the Virgin's slender, green-clad figure giving a Gothic S-curve against the crimson curtain of the background; the mantle hanging from her shoulders serves as a beautiful symbol of patronage. The isolation of the scene from the background and consequently from the whole world, the very emphasis laid on the motive, are typical of the conservative tendencies of Cologne art which nevertheless welcomed the good opportunity for representing a piece of splendid Italian brocade. The heads deserve special notice; the tender glance of the Virgin and the sweet face of the Child, chiefly because the latter looks amazingly, precociously clever for his age.

The looks of the Carmelite monks kneeling to the Virgin reflect clearly discernible intellectual activity. Most probably all the six figures are portraits, as suggested by the careful delineation of features mirroring fine shades of differences. The figure whose head is covered may have been the superior of the small company of friars; this assumption is supported by his distinguished position - in the immediate proximity, to the right of the Virgin Mary - as well as by his cap.