MASTER of Saint Veronica
(active 1400-1420 in Cologne)
Triptych (open)c. 1410
Panel, 70 x 32,5 cm (centre), 70 x 16 cm (each wing)
Heinz Kisters Collection, Kreuzlingen
In the Middle Ages the same stories were constantly depicted anew within the culture of prayer. In Late Medieval art, however, the focus narrowed to a few specific themes and motifs. The devotional images were distilled from a larger context (e.g. the Pietà from the Lamentation). Despite all the innovations in the stock of images, the traditional Madonna and Crucifixion, (which are also themes derived from a narrative) remained the most popular. Many of the small Late Medieval paintings of the Virgin and Child were augmented with secondary figures, with the result that the old theme began telling a new story. This is exemplified by this charming little painting of the Cologne Scholl.
The shape of the triptych undoubtedly derived from Italian art, but all its other features place it firmly within the tradition of painting in Cologne. They include the bodyless figures, whose existence is determined solely by the undulating movement of their robes. The rich, full tonality lends weight to these mild-mannered forms. Even Jesus's tormentors in the scene of the Mocking of Christ cannot ruffle the mood of serenity.
The two saints seated on either side of the Virgin are John the Evangelist with the chalice (left) and John the Baptist with Lamb of God, which is to be sacrificed. The Virgin's most striking attendants are the four elegant ladies in the foreground. They are the four holy noblewomen, who, particularly in Cologne art, often appear as the Virgin's close friends. On the left is St Barbara with her tower, and beside her St Christine with the millstone with which she was martyred. Across from her sits Princess Catherine with her wheel and sword, who is looking at Mary Magdalene holding the jar of ointment with which she anointed the dead Christ.
The left wing has two scenes from Christ's Passion and death, and on the right wing we see His triumph over death at the Resurrection the Ascension.
The central panel of this triptych is widely considered to be autograph; the wings may have been made in the master's workshop.