UNKNOWN MASTER, Bohemian
(beginning of the 15th century)
St Margaretc. 1400
Brush, Chinese ink, red chalk, 214 x 140 mm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest
This lovely sheet is one of the drawings made about 1400, which are on the borderline of drawing as an autonomous genre. It may have been the preparatory sketch for a picture or a sculpture, or its subsequent copy; or else it may have served for a model drawing. Up to now no direct connection with existing works of art has been established. The drawing produced by the brush in greyish-black Chinese ink and coloured by red chalk is so delicate and exquisite, asserting three-dimensional values and effects of light with such a number of nuances, that for us it represents self contained artistic values of a very high level indeed.
The main reason why it is so difficult to fix the place where the work was created is that it represents in a very highly developed form and exceptional quality the style of the time about 1400, an art interwoven from several European trends. It was originally considered to have been the work of a Cologne master, then an Austrian one, while Oettinger, due to the relationship between the drawing and the Pühl Altarpiece, had in mind a master of the Augsburg region, but working under the effect of Bohemian art. Czech scholars revealed some connections, both of form and of shape, with the so-called "beautiful Madonnas" and a group of paintings produced under their influence. Indeed, the equilibrium of the figure brought about by movements of opposite directions, and, above all by the dense and deep folds of the wide garment which completely conceals the body, draperies that fall downwards on either side like a cascade, the edges showing rhythmically undulating lines, as well as the three-dimensional modelling of the soft, heavy folds are reminiscent of the Beautiful Madonna of Krumlov and the sculptures and paintings inspired by it.
The composition of the drawing is carefully poised. The dragon at the saint's feet provides a pedestal broad enough for the slender figure in her ample garments. The mass of the dragon's head is counterbalanced by the sling made by the end of its tail, whereas the line of the saint's body leaning towards the right is counterpoised by an imaginary diagonal line drawn from the dragon's head to the cross. The abundant drapery falling onto the right hip is a characteristic example of how in the International Gothic style draperies achieved the status of elements from which a picture can be constructed, motifs that have an independent life of their own.