Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object
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Virgin and Child with a Donor Presented by Saint Jerome

Artist:
Master of the Munich Bavarian Panels (Bavaria, probably Munich, active mid-15th century)
Artist:
with additions by an Unknown painter, Italian (?), active 1460s-1470s(?)
Date:
ca. 1450
Culture:
Bavaria, probably Munich
Medium:
Oil and gold on poplar panel
Dimensions:
25 x 19 in. (63.5 x 48.3 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Accession Number:
1975.1.133
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 953
This panel shows the Virgin Mary and Christ Child venerated by

a donor and Saint Jerome, the latter identifiable by his cardinal’s

hat and red cape. The Virgin, Jerome, and donor lean toward

each other with their heads thrust forward, lending the scene an

air of urgency, which is heightened by the Virgin’s dynamic pose,

her left leg slung over her right. The Child clutches a bunch of grapes, symbolic of the wine of the Eucharist and the future Passion,

and wears coral amulets valued for their apotropaic qualities.

The Virgin appears to lift him off the bench, as if presenting him to

the donor — a literal offering of the body and blood of Christ. The

bench is adorned with relief figures, probably prophets, and its form

is reminiscent of a sarcophagus or an altar. The rosary draped over

the Virgin’s leg traces a line from the immediate foreground back to

the Child, inviting the pious viewer to move mentally toward Christ

through prayers represented by the rosary beads.

The scene takes place in a grassy garden bounded by a low stone

wall, which evokes the hortus conclusus (enclosed garden) of the Song

of Songs (4:12), a Mariological symbol of virginity popular in sacred

literature and art of the fifteenth century. The wall supports a raised

bed of grass, out of which grow three trees with precisely rendered

leaves and fruits. They may be identified, from left to right, as olive,

apple, and fig. Situated directly behind Christ and Mary, the apple

tree refers to the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and

thereby alludes to the typological notion of Christ and Mary as the

new Adam and Eve, bringing deliverance from sin. The fig tree at the

right calls to mind the leaves with which Adam and Eve covered their

nakedness after the fall from grace. The olive tree is symbolic of

Mary; the Hours of the Virgin cite from Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 24:19

in reference to her: “As a fair olive tree . . . was I exalted.” Various

plants are identifiable in the grass: shepherd’s purse, hoary plantain,

red clover, wood sorrel, strawberry (leaves only), and dandelion.

While the tripartite leaves of strawberry, clover, and wood sorrel may well refer to the Holy Trinity, plantain and dandelion were commonly

associated with Christ’s Passion. Like plantain, shepherd’s

purse was known in medieval medicine as a stancher of blood and

might therefore also be suggestive of the Passion.

As originally executed, the upper limit of the composition formed

an arch that ran along the tops of the trees. An arched framing

element must have covered the top third of the panel. Sometime

after the initial completion of the work, that framing element was

removed, and the composition was extended upward by the addition

of a trilobed, gilded area containing an incised and punched

depiction of God the Father or Christ as Salvator Mundi, flanked

by two angels. Charles Talbot tentatively dated the upper extension

within a few decades of the original work — a plausible suggestion,

on which see below.

In the late nineteenth century, the Museum’s

panel was considered the work of an anonymous Florentine

painter of the mid-to late fifteenth century under the influence

of contemporary German art. In the 1920s and 1930s, the picture

was localized variously in Swabia, Cologne, and the Lower Rhine

region. The most compelling argument is the recognition of the panel as Bavarian and

the attribution to the Master of the Munich Marian Panels, a painter

probably active in Munich in the mid-fifteenth

century, named after an Annunciation and a Nativity in the Kunsthaus Zürich. The latter are thought to have constituted parts of the wings

of a large Crucifixion altarpiece whose central panel was the Munich

Cathedral Crucifixion (Münchner Domkreuzigung) now in that city’s

Frauenkirche, which in turn is considered the work of a collaborator

dubbed the Master of the Munich Cathedral Crucifixion.

The Metropolitan Museum’s picture recalls the Marian panels in the Kunsthaus Zürich,

especially in the similar way in which the figures, pressed

prominently into the foreground, form the primary building blocks

of the compositions. Comparisons can also be made between the forms of the hands, the stout body type of the Christ Child common to the Metropolitan’s panel and the Kunsthaus Zürich’s Nativity, and the regular crisscross pattern of the grass in the Museum’s picture, which resembles that of the hay in The Nativity and is further paralleled in the wiry, crisscrossed strands of hair in certain figures in all three works. The opportunity to study the Virgin and Child with a Donor Presented by Saint Jerome side by side with the Kunsthaus Zürich’s Annunciation and Nativity for the first time in 2010 brought to light further similarities, including the matching conception of the drapery folds, the dotted texturing of many of thegarments, and the rosy undertone of the Virgin’s white robe in The Nativity, which finds an analogue in the layering of white over red in Jerome’s surplice. In addition, the eyes of most of the figures share a distinctive sideways-teardrop shape, in which the outer end of the form appears pinched down. Also, the physiognomy of the Child in the Metropolitan’s picture closely resembles that of the two angels shown en face in The Nativity, and the fictive sculpture on the bench of the Museum’s panel is very similar to that on the spandrels of The Annunciation. The only significant difference between the works appears to arise from their divergent functions: the large altarpiece panels in Zürich display simpler, more massive forms and a broader application of paint better suited to viewing from a distance, while the smaller panel in New York, meant for closer viewing, is more minutely and exquisitely rendered. Points of comparison with the rest of the ensemble to which the Marian panels belong — those paintings assigned to the Master of the Munich Cathedral Crucifixion, which comprise the eponymous Crucifixion in Munich and an Agony in the Garden and Entombment of Christ in the Kunsthaus Zürich — reinforce the link to the Master of the Munich Marian Panels, since the two artists were collaborators (probably as master and assistant) who shared a common repertoire of forms and motifs. Not only are the figure types and treatment of drapery folds comparable, but details such as the intersecting semicircles tipped with fleurs-de-lis on certain halos and borders of robes in the Crucifixion, Agony in the Garden, and Entombment of Christ are found also on the halos of Jerome and Mary in the present painting. The foliage forms are largely similar, and there is even a parallel in the idiosyncratic placement of dandelion leaves projecting from beneath the Virgin’s robe in the Metropolitan’s panel and Mary Magdalen’s robe in the Kunsthaus Zürich’s Entombment. Commentators on the Metropolitan’s panel have repeatedly called attention to its Italianate aspects. Indeed, the format — both in the original state, with an arched frame capping the composition just above the trees, and as altered to form a trilobed arch — is more suggestive of Italian panels of the fourteen and fifteenth centuries than of any northern European precedent. The composition is strongly reminiscent of a picture such as the Virgin and Child with Saints Nicholas, Catherine of Alexandria, and a Donor by Gentile da Fabriano, and more generally it resembles numerous was localized variously in Swabia, Cologne, and the Lower Rhine region. The most compelling argument was the recognition of the panel as Bavarian and its attribution to the Master of the Munich Marian Panels, a painter probably active in Munich in the mid-fifteenth century, named after an Annunciation and a Nativity in the Kunsthaus Zürich. The latter are thought to have constituted parts of the wings of a large Crucifixion altarpiece whose central panel was the Munich Cathedral Crucifixion (Münchner Domkreuzigung) now in that city’s Frauenkirche, which in turn is considered the work of a collaborator dubbed the Master of the Munich Cathedral Crucifixion. The similarity of the Metropolitan Museum’s picture to the Marian panels in the Kunsthaus Zürich, is found in the manner in which the figures, pressed prominently into the foreground, form the primary building blocks of the compositions, the forms of the hands, the stout body type of the Christ Child common to the Metropolitan’s panel and the Kunsthaus Zürich’s Nativity, and the regular crisscross pattern of the grass in the Museum’s picture, which resembles that of the hay in The Nativity and is further paralleled in the wiry, crisscrossed strands of hair in certain figures in all three works. The opportunity to study the Virgin and Child with a Donor Presented by Saint Jerome side by side with the Kunsthaus Zürich’s Annunciation and Nativity for the first time in 2010 brought to light further similarities, including the matching conception of the drapery folds, the dotted texturing of many of the garments, and the rosy undertone of the Virgin’s white robe in The Nativity, which finds an analogue in the layering of white over red in Jerome’s surplice. In addition, the eyes of most of the figures share a distinctive sideways-teardrop shape, in which the outer end of the form appears pinched down. Also, the physiognomy of the Child in the Metropolitan’s picture closely resembles that of the two angels shown en face in The Nativity, and the fictive sculpture on the bench of the Museum’s panel is very similar to that on the spandrels of The Annunciation. The only significant difference between the works appears to arise from their divergent functions: the large altarpiece panels in Zürich display simpler, more massive forms and a broader application of paint better suited to viewing from a distance, while the smaller panel in New York, meant for closer viewing, is more minutely and exquisitely rendered. Points of comparison with the rest of the ensemble to which the Marian panels belong — those paintings assigned to the Master of the Munich Cathedral Crucifixion, which comprise the eponymous Crucifixion in Munich and an Agony in the Garden and Entombment of Christ in the Kunsthaus Zürich — reinforce the link to the Master of the Munich Marian Panels, since the two artists were collaborators (probably as master and assistant) who shared a common repertoire of forms and motifs. Not only are the figure types and treatment of drapery folds comparable, but details such as the intersecting semicircles tipped with fleurs-de-lis on certain halos and borders of robes in the Crucifixion, Agony in the Garden, and Entombment of Christ are found also on the halos of Jerome and Mary in the present painting. The foliage forms are largely similar, and there is even a parallel in the idiosyncratic placement of dandelion leaves projecting from beneath the Virgin’s robe in the Metropolitan’s panel and Mary Magdalen’s robe in the Kunsthaus Zürich’s Entombment. Commentators on the Metropolitan’s panel have repeatedly called attention to its Italianate aspects. Indeed, the format — both in the original state, with an arched frame capping the composition just above the trees, and as altered to form a trilobed arch — is more suggestive of Italian panels of the fourteen and fifteenth centuries than of any northern European precedent. The composition is strongly reminiscent of a picture such as the Virgin and Child with Saints Nicholas, Catherine of Alexandria, and a Donor by Gentile da Fabriano, and more generally it resembles numerous other Virgins in garden settings, both enthroned and of the Madonna of Humility type, such as Jacopo Bellini’s Virgin and Child with a Donor, Probably Lionello d’Este (ca. 1435, Musée du Louvre, Paris). Also, the stance of the Christ Child might be Italian in inspiration, for as any informal survey will demonstrate, a standing child is far more common in Italian than in northern European art of the period. Although his pose in the Museum’s picture is complicated by his bent knee, he is in fact upright, not seated. While elements of format and composition indicate an Italian influence, certain material properties of the Metropolitan’s picture suggest that it was actually made in Italy. The support is poplar, the most common wood type used in Italian panel painting, and one that is rare north of the Alps. Moreover, the ground preparation of both the original composition and the later extension consists of gypsum (calcium sulfate), the standard ground material used in Italy, not chalk (calcium carbonate), which is common for northern paintings. It seems highly probable, therefore, that the Master of the Munich Marian Panels painted the Museum’s picture while on a trip to Italy, using local materials for the support and ground preparation but executing the painting in the northern oil technique familiar to him. That the area of the later alteration was also prepared with a gypsum ground suggests, moreover, that the picture remained in Italy and was reworked there. In this light, it should be noted not only that the motif of the addition — a Salvator Mundi (or God the Father) flanked by angels — is widespread in Italian art of the period but also that persuasive stylistic parallels for the incised and punched group are found in Italian engravings of the third quarter of the fifteenth century. The broad, somewhat fleshy features of the blessing figure and the angels are reminiscent of types that appear in certain Florentine prints of the 1460s and 1470s, such as The Resurrection and The Death and Coronation of the Virgin, both anonymous works of the 1460s, and the Christ in Glory of 1477 attributed to Baccio Baldini. If the portion of the Metropolitan’s picture that is by the Master of the Munich Marian Panels is to be dated roughly 1450, in general agreement with the putative date of the master’s name paintings, then the composition plausibly remained in its original state for only a decade or two before being reworked with the addition of the trilobed area at the top, possibly by an Italian artist commissioned to accommodate it to a new display context. Since the Master of the Munich Marian panels assimilated Italianate influences to a personal style deeply informed by northern traditions of descriptive realism and local conventions probably acquired in Munich, the Lehman panel reveals little of precisely where in Italy the master traveled. Nevertheless, northern Italy was a geographical inevitability, and Venice is likely, given the city’s economic ties to southern Germany. For the moment it is difficult to say whether the trip occurred before or after the master’s involvement with the Munich Cathedral Crucifixion Altarpiece. In any case, the Virgin and Child with a Donor Presented by Saint Jerome reveals the Master of the Munich Marian Panels as an important early example of a German painter who, decades before the famous example of Albrecht Dürer, gained firsthand experience of art in Italy. [2016; adapted from Waterman 2013]
Inscription: Inscribed in Mary's nimbus: VFQT . . . R[or P]AOWB(?)
H. Wendland, Paris, 1913; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 26 October 1921 (Lugt 82619), lot 12 (as Swabian, sixteenth century). Acquired by Philip Lehman at the Wendland sale in 1921.
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