All of us readily acknowledge that the most important publications for scholars in both the museum and the academy are the comprehensive catalogues of permanent collections, though they seldom get the splashy coverage of either exhibition catalogues or artist’s monographs. In the field of early German art, the outstanding collections in that country form the foundations of all scholarship, and the Städel is exemplary in its ongoing catalogue productions. This volume continues the fine prece dent of 1993, Niederländische Gemälde im Städel 1400-1550 by Jochen Sander. Brinkmann and Kemperdick are already familiar and respected names to scholars of Netherlandish art: Brinkmann for his work on fifteenth-century manuscripts, Kemperdick for his recent monograph on Campin.
Von Zabern has performed its customary exemplary production as well, furnishing high-quality color reproductions of all works as well as legible infrared mosaics and x-radiographs; generous comparative images bolster the stylistic arguments of the curators. Technological studies are complemented by careful line drawings, including punchmarks details of the important Lochner panels.
The collection begins with the four scenes of the interior wings of the Altenberg retable, a dismembered reliquary altarpiece whose central Madonna image, clearly related to Cologne sculpture, is in Munich (BNM). The catalogue entry (3-32) includes a full historiography, which in this case goes back to mid-seventeenth century antiquarianism in a manuscript history by the prior and includes a first full study by Graf Solms-Laubach (1926) as well as Ehresmann’s study in the 1982 Art Bulletin of its iconography and function. Later relocated in the nun’s balcony of the church, this large work must once have been designed as a main altarpiece. The original site was strongly associated with the blessed Gertrude (canonized in 1348); her mother, St. Elizabeth, appears with a tiny nun in the wings. However, like many other artworks these panels became dissociated from their original monastic context in the nineteenth century, only to become a museum piece (the original shrine is today in Schloss Braunfels near Wetzlar; the ensemble was reunited for the 1975 exhibition, ‘Kunst um 1400 am Mittelrhein’). This thorough catalogue discussion considers the range of openings and effects of this formative work, at once midway between a medieval reliquary shrine and a winged retable, and it assigns origins to the Cologne region at the end of the first third of the fourteenth century.
Frankfurt is the home of the name painting of the Master of the Paradise Garden, and that entry (93-120) is another highlight of this catalogue. This often discussed image offers a rich historiography, led by Ewald Vetter (1965), which ponders localization in the Upper Rhine, often around Strasbourg, and the interpretation of the saints, the site, ahortus conclusus, as well as individual flowers, in particular those with mariological significance. Dating to around 1410/20 is based in part on the armored figure of St. George, and a core group of related works confirmed but nuanced (dating the Winterthur Annunciation and Strasbourg Joseph’s Doubt later, c.1430/40, noting their use of consistent shadows), including the rejection of a proffered name, Hans Tiefental of Schlettstadt. Attempts to find stylistic precedents largely fail, though the Norfolk Triptych provides some common features. The meticulous plant studies of this work also link it to the early fifteenth-century imagery, especially in North Italy, surveyed by Pächt (1950, not cited) and with imagery of love-gardens, such as the mid-century engravings of those subjects. The identity of the saints remains uncertain, without their usual attributes, yet the dominance (and heraldic prominence) given to female saints suggests that this might be a work intended for a woman’s cloister, itself associated with an image of paradise.
The great 1993 Lochner exhibition, organized by the Wallraf-Richartz Museum led to a full re-examination of that artist’s core works, including Frankfurt’s series, the Martyrdom of the Apostles (176-217), here reconstructed as the wings of the Last Judgment Altarpiece(Cologne, bearing similar punch marks, following Lukatis, 1993) and with the exterior Saints (Munich), with kneeling male donors and their arms. Carefully conducted technical studies, including full infrareds, even indicate color notations in the underdrawings; Brinkmann has also published these findings in the Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch (1997). There is no firm basis for dating, now usually assigned to the period 1435-40; Netherlandish influence is asserted but not specified (see the Cologne catalogue). The putative site for this commission was (following Gompf, 1997) the Catherine Choir of the Holy Apostles, Cologne, a site that would explain the two male donors, confraternity members.
The other ‘star’ picture is a Resurrection by the Housebook Master (308-26), recently examined in a fine monograph by Daniel Hess (1994). This is complemented by a workshop St. Jerome as well as an associate’s work, the right wing of the Monis Altarpiece. Of course, theResurrection is well associated with other panels in Berlin and Freiburg (illustrated) in the so-called ‘Speyer Altarpiece.’ This attribution was confirmed by technical studies of underdrawing by Filedt Kok in the Amsterdam exhibition (1985), though the dis position of the panels into a single altarpiece remains uncertain. Dating usually pointed around 1480 is slightly revised because of shoe style in the Crucifixion(Freiburg), suggesting rather 1485/90. Connections to Cologne, and by extension to the Netherlands, emerge from this picture. The authors agree with Hess in associating the paintings group with the drypoints of the Amsterdam Cabinet Master.
These are highlights of a collection both broad and deep in older German panels, including important pendant portraits by Master WB (Wolfgang Beurer) and a Nuremberg Youth, c.1490, plus a small Holy Family by the Master of St. Bartholomew. The curators have maintained the high standard already set by Sander in his Netherlandish volume. One can easily become impatient to see the sequel volume on sixteenth-century German art by the same authors!
University of Pennsylvania