UNKNOWN MASTER, Flemish
(active around 1400 in Southern Netherlands)
Oak, 71 x 141 cm
Museum of Sint Salvator Kathedral, Brugge
The immense growth and renewal of painting as an artistic medium that occurred in the Southern Netherlands from around 1425-30 meant that most existing altarpieces were gradually replaced. Examples of fourteenth- or even early fifteenth-century panel painting are thus extremely scarce. One such work, from around 1400, is the Crucifixion with Saint Catherine and Saint Barbara, also known as the 'Tanners' Crucifixion', because it probably once belonged to the Bruges tanners' guild. It is one of the very few well-preserved examples of local Flemish painting in the Gothic International Style, which conquered Europe with its courtly and artful grace, elegant curves and decorative linearism.
Tightly knit groups of figures are arranged on either side of the Cross in matching curved formations. The Virgin and Saint John form the nucleus of the group on the left, while the centurion and high priest do the same on the right. The sky is an unreal, golden plane with decorative motifs in relief. The painting is a 'chest retable', so called because the lid folds up to reveal a blue painted surface showing a geometric, starry sky. It is often held up as an exemplar of Bruges painting before Van Eyck, even though it could equally well have been produced in Brabant.