MASTER of the Vienna Adoration
(active around 1410)
Tempera on lindenwood, 26 x 22 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest
This panel shows the mature Soft Style in admirable purity. The gentle carriage and devotion-inspiring countenance of the Virgin are in keeping with the solemn genuflexion of the kings approaching with presents. The group of, as it were, boneless figures, so flexible as to tolerate moulding into any attitude at will, strives to evoke an ideal world where gracility of the Gothic line is the supreme law, believed to ennoble every visible figure and manifestation. The luxuriant greensward of long blades of grass strewn with white flowers emphasizes the plane-like arrangement of the figures; perspective seems to have been immaterial to the artist.
The painter was given his name after a work representing the Adoration of Jesus, which is preserved in Vienna. His picture in Budapest is the size of a folio and is (like his other works) a domestic altar painted with the delicacy of a miniature.
The scene takes place in a rocky landscape with flowers and grass, which lack any geometrical order and any architecture. The Magi, having arrived from the left without a retinue, are about to reverentially hand over their gifts to the Virgin and Child seated on the right. Balthasar, the youngest among them, is a nearly symmetrical counterpart of the figure of the Madonna, who is bending slightly forwards. Balthasar's rather feminine figure and the wing-like, fluttering back edge of his garment reminds us of the Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation. The top left corner is filled by the figure of a youthful shepherd, characterized by colours identical with the Virgin's. He is leaning with his elbow against the background. Like repeated designs with small variations clumps of softly moving grass, weightlessly curving and bending like pond weed, appear in the foreground interspersed with a diversity of flowers, whose petals are spread like points of a star. The Virgin's left hand, with the fingers opening like petals, is a telling example of the way of thinking in terms of ornamental designs, and is characteristic both of the painter and of the period.
Soft modelling is very evident in the whole composition. When he had carefully arranged the edges of the draperies on the ground and meticulously conveyed the difference between the parts of the folds in the light and those in shade, the painter paid greater attention to them than to the rather schematic and blank faces. To such an extent is softness a part of his art that he had difficulties in depicting hard, metallic surfaces (see, for example, the modelling of the crowns and the presents). The Master of the Vienna Adoration learned a lot from the Master of Trebon, who was a generation older than him. The Virgin's figure, gently bent slightly forwards, her round head with a lofty forehead, and the softly drawn and carefully arranged deep folds of her mantle are reminiscent of the picture of Hluboká. The uncertain representation of the pose of kneeling is also similar in the two pictures.