MASTER of the Trebon Altarpiece
(active in 1380-1400 in Bohemia)

The Adoration of Jesus

Before 1380
Tempera on spruce, 127 X 96.3 cm
Alsová Jihoceská Galeria, Hluboká

The artist of this painting is referred to as Master of Trebon (Wittingau).

The graceful Virgin is dressed in a blue mantle with a red lining and is kneeling on an ornate cushion as if worshipping in front of an altar; she prays to her Child, who is firmly wrapped into swaddling clothes and rests in the watering trough-used as a cradle-of the stable. Behind Mary there stands Joseph, a simple man with a somewhat coarse face. His huge hand rests on the delicate lace shawl covering the fence. In the top corner on the right two sturdy shepherds with characteristic features and in torn clothes listen excitedly to the tidings of the birth of Jesus. At the bottom of the picture they appear again: they have come to adore the Infant. The environment is just indicated: on a terraced rocky ground there is only scanty vegetation. Tiny birds populate the whole scene. On the right-hand side there is a small genre picture with a group of oxen, sheep, a goat and a pig, the latter with a magpie on its back.

The painting is a characteristic example of the attempt of the International Gothic style to unite opposites. The noble and clear contours of the Virgin and her ethereal and idealized figure differ markedly from the other characters of the scene, thick-set and cruder, but represented in a more shaded manner. Although Joseph and the shepherds are depicted naturally and without any prejudice, they follow the rules of a hierarchy in their very dimensions. While attempting to convey spatiality the artist also paid attention to a decorative arrangement of the surface. Spatial depth is indicated by means of the layered ground, and the way the stable building is set at an angle. Moreover, the mysterious semi-darkness of the scene also suggests space. At the same time the representation is strongly connected with the two-dimensional plane of the painting, the motifs being placed rather above than behind one another, thus evenly filling up the whole field of the picture. The poles supporting the stable divide the field into three parts and create a triptych-like arrangement with the Virgin and the Infant in the middle, while Joseph is on the left "wing" and the shepherds on the right one. The various forms meet in a harmonious way, such as, for example, the elongated back of the Virgin, parallel with the supporting poles of the stable, or her halo, beautifully fitting the supports of the roof. The only stressed line that crosses another one is the white-sleeved arm of the shepherd in yellow clothes and that of the pole supporting the stable. It is needed because the artist wanted to clarify the spatial position of the two figures. His way of thinking in terms of the plane of the picture is characteristically exemplified by the figures of the two shepherds in the background leaning against each other.