UNKNOWN MASTER, Hungarian
(active around 1490)

The Sermon of Saint Martin

c. 1490
Tempera on wood, 101,5 x 89,5 cm
Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest

There are two related panels, painted on both sides, in the Hungarian National Gallery which once were the wings of an altarpiece dedicated to St Martin and St Nicholas. One of the wings represents St Martin and the Beggar (outer side) and the Sermon of St Martin in Albenga (inner side). The other wing depicts St Nicholas and the Daughters of the Nobleman in Pataria (outer side) as well as the scene St Nicholas Resurrects Three Deads.

The panel represents a legendary scene from the life of St. Martin. The Bishop, having given his clothes to a needy man, celebrates mass in poor, hastily acquired garments. At the elevation of the Host angels descend to cover his bare arms.

The altar table in the sanctuary, shown in great detail, is decorated with a picture within the picture: a horizontally arranged retable with a scene of the Crucifixion. This is of special importance in the history of the development of winged altars in Hungary, for it demonstrates that this early type of retables of which very few examples have survived, was still in use at the end of the fifteenth century. Seen against the embroidered white altar-cloth the shadows are effective. The artist's representation of the missal is most realistic; also the representation of the mitre and the Gothic style objects made of precious metals, the ciborium between two candlesticks, the chalice and the paten, the latter only just visible under the edge of the communion cloth. Realism was not, however, an end in itself; the painter introduced these details to create an atmosphere of wonder before the legendary scene. The realistic characters are also imbued with piety. The portraitlike features of the male figure kneeling on the right suggest that it was he who commissioned the altarpiece. The painter's endeavours to represent the interior in perspective, the sharp folds shown almost in relief and the subtle colour effects all place the master of this panel among the finest Hungarian painters active in the late fifteenth century.




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