UNKNOWN MASTER, Bohemian
(first quarter of the 15th century)
The Virgin, Two Heads of Christ, an Angel, a Thief, a Lion, a Skull and a Stag (from a model-book)1400-25
Paper pasted onto maple-wood, 95 x 90 mm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
The model-book consists of fourteen nearly square panels, which could originally be folded like a concertina. On each panel there were four drawings, and with one exception every little picture represents a head. Originally these heads were arranged in a hierarchic order: first Christ, followed by the Virgin, by the apostles and other characters from the Bible, then secular people of higher and lower ranks, and finally likenesses of animals, also in the sequence of a predetermined hierarchy, beginning with a lion (with human ears) and ending with a spider (this being the exception to the rule whereby only the head is delineated). The transition between humans and animals is represented by a skull and the coarse ugly face of a man. Both could be used to depict, for example, a crucifixion: the former for the unrepentant thief and the latter as the skull of Adam at the foot of the cross.
There are also drawings in which the posture of the heads and the direction of the glances presuppose a definite composition. In the first panel represented here, the head of the crucified Christ and of the Virgin looking up at Him can be seen, whilst an angel of the Annunciation is shown beside Christ with the crown of thorns. The two former faces, that of Christ and of the Virgin, reveal a striking resemblance with the figures of the Pühl Altarpiece: the pose of the heads, the lines of the eyes, the length of Christ's hair and the shape of His beard, the arrangement of the two kerchiefs on the Virgin's head, etc. are essentially similar. This relationship does not prove that the two works were produced by the same master or the same workshop, but rather it testifies to the internationalism of the period's art. The other drawings of the model-book may, otherwise, be traced back to different Bohemian, Austrian, Rhenish, French and Italian types.
Schlosser assumed that the album had belonged to a painter's assistant, who, before completing his studies, set out on a tour to acquire experience. He carefully put down for himself all the types of faces he might need in the future, types he had learned to draw from his master.