MASTER M S
Tempera on limewood, 139,5 x 94,7 cm
Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest
No written sources have been found so far on the life of the Master M S, the most important representative of Late Gothic painting in Hungary. The only clue concerning his activity is the date 1506 and the signature M S on the sarcophagus of one of his paintings, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ, held in the Christian Museum of Esztergom. There is even uncertainty concerning the identity of the church for which his closely associated paintings were made. The most widely accepted view identifies it as the Church of Mary of Selmecbánya, since most of the paintings were found in the vicinity of this important mining town. There are four Passion paintings in the possession of the Christian Museum; the painting "The Birth of Christ" is held in Hontszentantal, while The Adoration of the Magi is kept in the Museum of Lille in France. According to the earlier attempts at reconstructing the master's work now at the National Gallery, the paintings were supposed to decorate the outer panels of a large triptych when closed; when opened, the triptych was assumed to reveal reliefs, since traces of such reliefs can be found on the obverse of the Passion scenes. Recent studies by restorers cannot exclude the possibility that the scenes taken from the life of the Virgin Mary and the Passion scenes were in fact parts of two different triptychs.
The painting entitled "The Visitation" depicts the meeting of the two saints, the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth, with poetic intimacy: Elizabeth recognizes Mary as the mother of God and kisses her hand. The idyllic landscape, which is in harmony with the figures, further enhances the poetic mood of the picture. The iconographic representation of the Visitation, in which the two saints meet in the open air, rather than in Elizabeth's house, first became popular in the painting and book illuminations of Netherlandish artists. The flowers iris and the peony shown in the foreground are the symbols of Mary. However, while in the paintings of Rogier van der Weyden, for example, the earlier mentioned flowers were modestly hidden in the meticulously painted grass, in Master M S's work they become the corner-stones of the composition. The representation of these flowers suggest the direct study of nature, which could have been associated with the wide spread of herbariums.