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The Dormition of the Virgin; (reverse) Christ Carrying the Cross

Hans Schäufelein (German, Nuremberg ca. 1480–ca. 1540 Nördlingen)

Artist:
and Attributed to the Master of Engerda (German, active ca. 1510–20)
Date:
ca. 1510
Medium:
Oil on wood
Dimensions:
55 x 53 1/8 in. (139.7 x 134.9 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Karen and Mo Zukerman, Kowitz Family Foundation, Anonymous, and Hester Diamond Gifts, 2011
Accession Number:
2011.485ab
  • Gallery Label

    Front label:

    This large, double-sided panel is one of four that formed the wings of a folding triptych (see metmuseum.org/collections for a reconstruction). When open, the altarpiece showed episodes from the Life of the Virgin Mary—here her death, or dormition. Dürer’s influence is evident in the humanity conveyed in the individualized heads of the apostles and their concentrated mood of quiet sorrow.

    Schäufelein was among Dürer's most gifted pupils and the one whose style most consistently showed the influence of the great German master. Between 1509 and 1515, he also served in the Augsburg workshop of Hans Holbein the Elder.

    Reverse label:

    When closed, the monumental triptych to which this panel belonged showed scenes from the Passion of Christ. They were painted by an artist known as the Master of Engerda and were based on designs by Hans Holbein the Elder. Hans Schäufelein intervened at a late stage in the painting process, adding a tormenter at the upper right and altering the position of the rope-puller to achieve a more dynamic, active expression. The scene’s dramatic mood is heightened by the emotionally shattered Christ, who looks out of the painting rather than down at the ground.

  • Catalogue Entry

    This double-sided panel by one of Albrecht Dürer’s most gifted pupils, Hans Schäufelein, once formed the lower half of the right wing of a monumental triptych that was probably made for the Church of the Holy Cross in Augsburg (Metzger 2002). The triptych to which this panel belonged represented scenes from the Passion of Christ on the exterior and from the Life of the Virgin on the interior when open. The other remaining paintings from the wings are today in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Stuttgart Staatsgalerie, and the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, England. The centerpiece perhaps showed sculptures of the Virgin and Child with saints, and is no longer extant.

    The primary side of the MMA panel represents the Dormition of the Virgin as recounted in the thirteenth-century Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine. The Virgin is depicted just prior to her death, in her bedroom, where she is surrounded by the Apostles. Some of them carry objects pertaining to the rites associated with death and burial: a book of the gospels, a candle, a censer, a container of holy water, a staff with a cross, and the palm the apostles will carry before the Virgin and with which miracles will be performed as a sign to the people of Jerusalem. The Virgin crosses her arms over her heart in a prayerful attitude and in acceptance of her imminent death. The reverse of the panel, attributed to an anonymous artist known as the Master of Engerda, with Schäufelein contributing the figures of Christ and the two henchmen at the right, represents Christ Carrying the Cross. At the center of the composition, Jesus stumbles under the weight of his cross and is assisted by Simon of Cyrene, followed by the Virgin and Saint John. Three tormenters drag Christ onward, with a rope encircling his waist, and beat him; another carries over his head a ladder to mount the cross. The panel's neo-Gothic frame dates from the period during which the painting was owned by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, the great English architect, theorist, and a key figure in the Gothic Revival in England.

    Schäufelein produced the altarpiece when he was assisting Hans Holbein the Elder in his workshop in Augsburg. The compositions were inspired by Holbein’s paintings, which survive in drawings after them (Roberts 2010). However, Schäufelein’s compositions depart from Holbein's designs in newly creative and dynamic ways that show the influence of Dürer's innovative woodcut compositions, especially his print series of the Passion of Christ and Life of the Virgin. In the Dormition of the Virgin Schäufelein moved the Virgin closer to the center in a pose of peaceful submission, filling the foreground plane with apostles thoughtfully considering her imminent death—reading the gospels, holding a candle for the Virgin, and fervently praying to her. In the Christ Carrying the Cross—in this case, jointly by Schäufelein and the so-called Master of Engerda—Schäufelein has added a tormenter at the upper right and has altered the position of the rope-puller to achieve a more dynamic, active expression of the drama. This mood is additionally heightened by the emotionally shattered Christ, who looks out of the painting rather than down at the ground. The series of paintings to which this panel belongs is pivotal in Schäufelein's oeuvre, as it provides evidence of his time in Holbein's workshop as well as demonstrates his translation of Holbein's late-Gothic idiom into a modern expression influenced by Dürer's example. This moment places these paintings around 1510. A preliminary examination of the two paintings with infrared reflectography shows an extraordinarily detailed underdrawing (see Images) similar in style and execution to Schäufelein's underdrawings in other contemporary paintings (for example, the Visitation in the Prince of Liechtenstein Collection; see "Schäufelein as Painter and Graphic Artist in The Visitation," Metropolitan Museum Journal 22 [1987], pp. 135–40) and to his drawings on paper.

    [2011; adapted from Ainsworth in forthcoming Ainsworth and Waterman 2012]

  • Technical Notes

    The support of this double-sided painting, which retains its original dimensions, is made of five vertical boards of fir of varying widths. Unpainted wood and a barbe around the perimeter indicate that an engaged frame was in place when a calcium carbonate ground and a lead-white priming were applied to both sides of the panel. The unpainted border is beveled on both sides along the perimeter. X-radiography showed that tow was glued to defects and knots in several locations on each side before the panel was primed.

    As an additional preparation for the areas to be gilded, a piece of fabric was glued to the upper third of the side with the Dormition. The burnished gold background is characteristic of water gilding applied over an orange-red bole. The composition loosely follows scored lines marking the area to be gilded, except in the windowsill and wall below, which were painted over the gilding. The gold background is decorated with Kreispolitur (circle polishing). Throughout the gold background, microscopic fragments of blue paint extend over the cracks and on top of original paint, indicating that at one time the gilding was overpainted as a blue sky. The Virgin’s gold halo has a matte finish, characteristic of oil gilding, applied over a very thin, pale orange, medium-rich mordant. Infrared reflectography revealed extensive underdrawing on both sides of the panel executed in a liquid medium with a brush.

    Examination of the painted surface in normal light, in combination with study of x-radiographs and infrared reflectograms, supported the conclusion that the Dormition was painted by Schäufelein. It also revealed that most of the composition on the exterior was painted by another master. The exception is the tormenter pulling the rope at the right, a dynamic figure stylistically characteristic of Schäufelein, that was painted quickly with great confidence and skill in one session without any underdrawing.

    The overall excellent preservation of this painting is a testament to the well-crafted oil painting technique practiced in early sixteenth-century Germany. Any damages of note arose from expansion and contraction of the wooden panel caused by environmental changes or from misguided restoration practice. On the Dormition, these include areas of small losses along the splits, a large flake loss at the upper right in the Virgin’s veil, small losses and abrasions in several areas where the panel was prepared with tow, severe abrasions in the gold background, and losses, abrasions, and natural darkening in the green draperies. In a previous restoration, the severely discolored green robe of the apostle standing at the left was repainted an opaque light green; this drapery was later significantly damaged during removal of the overpaint by an unskilled cleaner. The Virgin’s azurite robe and the mantle draped over the shoulder of the apostle holding the candle have darkened with age. When the painting is examined with the stereomicroscope, many brightly colored red fibers are visible in areas containing red-lake pigments. These result from the fact that such pigments were manufactured from red-dyed wool or silk cloth. The robe of the apostle holding the candle was originally a purple made by combining lead white, azurite, and a red-lake pigment. Fading of the red-lake pigment resulted in the present light blue appearance of most of the robe, but the original purple hue remains in the shadows. The light blue robe of the apostle at the upper right holding the holy water bucket was also originally purple and his scapular a very dark purple. At the top right, the grayish blue mantle of one apostle and the hat of another were originally a medium dark purple.

    The side with Christ Carrying the Cross has suffered to a greater degree, but its losses are generally confined to insignificant areas, except for the losses and abrasions in the face of the figure holding the spiked maul. Small losses occur along splits in the panel, and losses as well as abrasions are found in several small areas where the panel was prepared with tow. Additional losses are present in the right side of Christ’s halo, behind his back and in his hip, in the chest, left hip, and leg of the tormenter pulling the rope, and in the boot of the man with the maul. The sky and the Virgin’s robe, both of which contain azurite, have darkened with age. The large areas of reticulated drying cracks are characteristic of oil paint that has been exposed to sunlight or high heat during the early stages of drying. This defect has developed primarily in the medium-rich paint layers containing red lake and azurite, where an unpigmented translucent material was applied between the paint layers. It is most extreme in the robes of the figure grasping the cross at the left and the tormenter holding the maul and in the snood of the tormenter at the upper left. Christ’s robe was originally purple, fabricated by applying a mixture of azurite, red lake, and lead white over a layer containing lead white mixed with the purple pigment fluorite. Fading of the red-lake pigment in the upper layers has caused the robe to now appear light blue. Fading of the red-lake pigment has diminished the original color saturation of all the passages that now appear very pale pink as well as the pale orange costumes of the tormenter at the right who pulls the rope and the man carrying the ladder.

    [2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]

  • Provenance

    ?art market, Munich (about 1838); Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, London (given to Hardman); John T. Hardman, Birmingham or Cheltenham; Pugin's son-in-law, John Hardman Powell, Birmingham or Cheltenham (until d. 1895; his estate, 1895–1969; on loan to Saint Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, 1927–69); by descent to H. G. Rowland, Birmingham or Cheltenham (until 1970; his sale, Christie's, London, June 26, 1970, no. 52, for 10,000 gns. to Holstein); [Xavier Scheidwimmer, Munich, from 1970]; Georg Schäfer, Schweinfurt; private collection, Germany (1978–2011; sale, Sotheby's, London, July 6, 2011, no. 36, to Naumann); [Otto Naumann, New York, 2011; sold to MMA]

  • Exhibition History

    Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. "Hans Holbein d. Ä.: Die Graue Passion in ihrer Zeit," November 27, 2010–March 20, 2011, no. 124.

  • References

    Peter Strieder. "Hans Holbein der Ältere zwischen Spätgotik und Renaissance zu den neuen Publikationen über den Künstler." Pantheon 19 (January–February 1961), pp. 99–100, fig. 5 (reverse).

    Edeltraud Rettich in Alte Meister. Stuttgart, 1992, pp. 383, 386.

    John Oliver Hand. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. Washington, 1993, p. 164 n. 13.

    Peter Strieder. Tafelmalerei in Nürnberg, 1350–1550. Königstein, 1993, p. 146, as in a private collection, Bonn.

    Barbara Butts in The Dictionary of Art. 28, New York, 1996, p. 58, as in a private collection, Bad Godesberg.

    Christof Metzger. Hans Schäufelin als Maler. Berlin, 2002, pp. 43–44, 73, 76–77, 106, 108–11, 278–90, 516–17, nos. 17d (obverse), 17h (reverse), figs. 196 (obverse), 200 (reverse).

    Daniela Roberts in Hans Holbein d. Ä.: Die Graue Passion in ihrer Zeit. Exh. cat., Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Stuttgart, 2010, p. 306, under nos. 68–70.

    Daniela Roberts and Elsbeth Wiemann in Hans Holbein d. Ä.: Die Graue Passion in ihrer Zeit. Exh. cat., Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Stuttgart, 2010, pp. 376–87, no. 124, ill. (color, obverse and reverse).

    Elsbeth Wiemann in Hans Holbein d. Ä.: Die Graue Passion in ihrer Zeit. Exh. cat., Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Stuttgart, 2010, p. 263, under no. 52.



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