UNKNOWN MASTER, German
(active around 1400 in Bavaria)

Triptych (Pähl Altarpiece)

c. 1400
Tempera on linen, 125 x 88 cm (central), 123 x 43 cm (wings), with frame
Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich

The triptych showing Christ on the Cross between the Virgin and St John the Evangelist on the central panel and St John the Baptist and St Barbara on the wings, found its way to the Munich Museum from the castle of Pähl, which belonged to the diocese of Augsburg. It has no close relations in the painting of the period, but a host of distant ones, therefore by now it is impossible to establish exactly where it was produced. In terms of its style and iconography, it has the greatest number of links with the art of the Master of Trebon. This, however, does not prove that it originated in Bohemia. Arguments have been expressed according to which it may have been produced in Augsburg, Salzburg or Munich, but the affinity of the triptych with the art of Jacquerio, Michelino da Besozzo and Stefano da Zevio has also been pointed out.

The representation radiates calmness and does not elicit passionate feelings. It was created with the intention of making the worshipper immerge in prolonged pious prayer. The meagre space of the scene is absolutely abstract: as though a golden curtain with a rhomboid pattern were stretched in the background. Not even the texture of the neutral brownish ground is suggested. On the other hand, it is not only the figures, but even the cross made of gnarled, thick wood and depicted three-dimensionally in a foreshortened way that almost seems as if you could touch it. By this the picture becomes a kind of vision, which stands out from its neutral surroundings and appears to exist only for the spectator. In addition to the calmness of the figures who are submerged in their own thoughts and feelings, it is also the equilibrium and the symmetrical rhythmic construction that contribute to the hornogeneous lyrical mood of the composition. The figure of Christ on the central part is larger than those of the saints on the side-panels, whereas those of the Virgin and St John are smaller. The body of Christ is the lightest and those of the saints on the wings are the darkest areas of the pictures. The cloaks of Mary and of St John are of the most vivid colours, which complement each other. St John is standing closer to the cross than the Virgin, but his body is bent away from it, whilst that of the Virgin is leaning towards it; thus, although their trunks are parallel, the head of Mary is nearer to Christ than to that of St John. Indeed, a contact is established between Christ and His mother by the fact that she is holding up her kerchief because she wants to catch the blood flowing from the wound of the Redeemer's breast. (This is the only movement in the picture that points further than the figure itself.) The similarity of the two cambrics, that of the Virgin's kerchief and Christ's loincloth, creates a further, subtle connection between the two figures.




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