Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Nativity

South Netherlandish Painter (ca. 1460)
Oil on wood, gold ground
37 x 36 1/4 in. (94 x 92.1 cm)
Credit Line:
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
Accession Number:
Not on view
?Kloster Gutenzell, Baden-Württemberg (until 1803; to Braun); ?Braun, Gutenzell (1803–d.); ?his son, Pfarrer [Pastor] Johann Baptist Braun, Dietenheim (until d. 1904); ?his nephew, Pfarrer [Pastor] Albert Baur, Walpertshofen (from 1904); M.-C. Hoogendijk, The Hague (by 1907–d. 1911; on loan to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1907–11; his estate sale, Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, May 14, 1912, no. 51, as by a fifteenth-century Lower Rhenish master, for fl. 2,000); Charles-Léon Cardon, Brussels (until d. 1920; his estate sale, Fievez, Brussels, June 27, 1921, no. 32, as by the Master of Flémalle, to Kleinberger); [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, 1921–22; sold to Friedsam]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1922–d. 1931)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.

New York. The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Shepherds in the Fields," December 19, 1952–February 1, 1953, no catalogue.

New York. church of the Ascension. "Annual Exhibition of Religious Art," April 22–May 6, 1956, no catalogue.

Stamford, Conn. Stamford Museum and Nature Center. "Gloria in Excelsis," December 7–31, 1963, no catalogue?

B. W. F. van Riemsdijk. Catalogue des tableaux, miniatures, pastels, dessins encadrés, etc. du Musée de l'État à Amsterdam, avec supplément. Amsterdam, 1911, p. 40, no. 341a, as from the Hoogendijk collection; calls it probably Netherlandish.

Catalogue des tableaux anciens dépendant des collections formées par M.-C. Hoogendijk de La Haye. Frederik Muller, Amsterdam. May 14, 1912, p. 19, no. 51, ill., as Lower Rhenish, of the fifteenth century.

Catalogue de tableaux anciens . . . du XVe au XIXe siècle . . . Joseph Fievez, Paris. June 27–30, 1921, p. 26, no. 32, as by the Master of Flémalle.

Max J. Friedländer in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 130, as by a South German master working most likely in the region of the Upper Rhine, about 1450; describes the MMA panels as wings of an altarpiece to which the Johnson panels probably also belonged.

Ernst Buchner in Beiträge zur Geschichte der Deutschen Kunst. Ed. Ernst Buchner and Karl Feuchtmayr. Vol. 2, Augsburger Kunst der Spätgotik und Renaissance. Augsburg, 1928, p. 497, in a review of Edmund Schilling, "Altdeutsche Handzeichnungen aus der Sammlung J.F. Lahmann zu Dresden" Munich, 1925, dates it and the Annunciation (MMA 32.100.38) to the 1450s or 1460s, placing the artist in the German-Burgundian border area or in Burgundy itself; groups the two MMA works with the Presentation in the Temple and the Birth of the Virgin in the Johnson collection, Philadelphia; states that the artist's work is influenced by the Master of Flémalle and especially Jacques Daret, and that the midwife in the Nativity derives from a figure in Daret's Nativity (now Thyssen-Bornemisza collection); attributes a drawing in the Lahmann collection, Dresden and, tentatively, a Crucifixion panel in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, to the same hand.

Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), pp. 28–29, no. 43, erroneously as painted in "tempera on oak overlaid with canvas and gesso"; retain Friedländer's [see Ref. 1928] attribution, adding that the panels are most likely by a painter from Basel or Lake Constance [Bodensee], given their proximity to the style of Conrad Witz; point out that the works also share general stylistic characteristics with the engravings of the Master of the Playing Cards .

Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 77, no. 340, pl. 69, dates the pictures about 1450, and gives the Lake Constance [Bodensee] region as their place of origin; states that Tietze and Swarzenski suggest that they come from Augsburg.

Max J. Friedlaender. "The Literature of Art: A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections, by Charles L. Kuhn [1936]." Burlington Magazine 69 (July 1936), p. 44, with the Johnson panels, as comprising scenes from the Death [sic for Life] of the Virgin, all belonging to the same altarpiece.

Hanns Swarzenski. Letter to Margaretta Salinger. April 17, 1945, states that he does "not feel too strongly about the Augsburg attribution" [see Ref. Kuhn 1936].

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 166–67, ill., as by an unknown Rhenish painter of the mid-fifteenth century; state that the panels were probably "parts of a polyptych, perhaps the shutters of a sculptured shrine"; note similarities to the Master of the Playing Cards and to Witz, including the types, the "space-filling figures," and the "massive draperies"; note that the gold background is modern.

Friedrich Winkler. "Maler und Reißer in vordürerischer Zeit." Zeitschrift für Kunstwissenschaft 3, no. 3/4 (1949), pp. 66–68, associates the MMA panels not only with the pictures in the Johnson collection but also with the Meeting at the Golden Gate and Joachim Cast out of the Temple in the Diözesanmuseum in Rottenburg; erroneously states that there is a third related panel, Scenes from the Life of Joachim, in Rottenburg; states that the three groups of panels formed part of an altarpiece, which he attributes to the Master of the Bidpai, a follower of the Master of the Sterzing Altarpiece; dates the altarpiece to 1480–85.

Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, p. 409 n. 4 to p. 127, p. 489 n. 6 to p. 311, states that the MMA panels are derived from panels of the same subject in the Berlin-Dahlem Museum by Petrus Christus, and that the Nativity is also derived from a Christus Nativity in the National Gallery of Art, Washington; identifies the female figure at center in the Nativity as the Apocryphal midwife Salome, pointing out that this figure's gesture of adoration in Christus's Nativity panels is here transformed into one of wonderment.

Albert Knoepfli. "Der Bezirk Münchwilen." Die Kunstdenkmäler des Kantons Thurgau. Basel, 1955, pp. 206–8, suggests that scenes of the Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation of the Virgin, forming the obverse and reverse of a single panel in the Klosterkirche at Fischingen in Thurgau, Switzerland, were also part of this altarpiece; based on information supplied by Stange, proposes a reconstruction of the altarpiece with the scenes from the life of the Virgin arranged chronologically from upper left to upper right when the altarpiece was closed, and with the scenes from the life of Christ arranged in the same fashion when the altarpiece was open; is unclear as to whether the Fischingen scenes appear at the upper or lower right in this reconstruction; in a note, mentions that P. Pieper suggests that the MMA, Philadelphia, Fischingen, and Rottenburg panels formed the left wing of an altarpiece.

Alfred Stange. Deutsche Malerei der Gotik. Vol. 8, Schwaben in der Zeit von 1450 bis 1500. Munich, 1957, pp. 10–11, fig. 19, following Winkler [see Ref. 1949], attributes the altarpiece to the Master of the Bidpai, and presents the same reconstruction of a Marian altarpiece that Knoepfli [see Ref. 1955] had, but with a diagram he makes clear that the Fischingen panel would have been at the upper right; claims that most of the panels seem to have been owned by a pastor in Dietenheim, south of Ulm, in the middle of the nineteenth century, and speculates that the original altarpiece might have come from a church in Dietenheim; stresses the influence of Jacques Daret but also sees the "Steigerung zu monumentaler Größe" of the Master of Flémalle, and thus proposes that the painter spent time in the Low Countries shortly before the mid-fifteenth century.

Iulius Baum. Meister und Werke spätmittelalterlicher Kunst in Oberdeutschland und der Schweiz. Lindau, 1957, p. 54, cites the MMA panels, the Fischingen, Rottenburg, and Philadelphia works, and a Magdalen formerly owned by Schniewind as an example of the influence of Netherlandish art on Swabian artists.

Bruno Bushart. "Studien zur altschwabischen Malerei: Ergänzungen und Berichtigungen zu Alfred Stanges 'Deutsche Malerei der Gotik,' VIII. Band, 'Schwaben in der Zeit von 1450 bis 1500'." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 22, no. 2 (1959), p. 138, dates the MMA panels and related works to about 1460; based on Stange's remark [see Ref. 1957] that most of the altarpiece components were once in Dietenheim, calls the artist the Master of the Dietenheim Marian Panels; does not identify the artist with the Master of the Bidpai; states that the painter shows some influence of Daret but comes from the immediate circle of the Master of the Sterzing altarpiece.

Alfred Stange. Kritisches Verzeichnis der deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer. Ed. Norbert Lieb. Vol. 2, Oberrhein, Bodensee, Schweiz, Mittelrhein, Ulm, Augsburg, Allgäu, Nördlingen, von der Donau zum Neckar. Munich, 1970, vol. 2, p. 127, no. 580b, retains the attribution to the Master of the Bidpai, and specifies that the Rottenburg and MMA panels were likely owned by Pfarrer Braun in Dietenheim in the mid-nineteenth century.

Paintings from Europe and the Americas in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: A Concise Catalogue. Philadelphia, 1994, p. 173, lists the MMA works with the Johnson collection Birth of the Virgin and Circumcision panels, which are attributed to the workshop of the Master of the Sterzingen Altar.

Franz X. Schmid. Letter to Jörg Martin. September 22, 2004, states that the altarpiece to which the MMA panels once belonged was originally from Kloster Gutenzell, and that the panels passed in the nineteenth century to the possession of the Braun family.

Melanie Prange in Diözesanmuseum Rottenburg: Gemälde und Skulpturen 1250–1550. Ed. Melanie Prange and Wolfgang Urban. Ostfildern, 2012, pp. 41, 43 n. 9, fig. 17 (color), under no. 3.

The Annunciation (MMA 32.100.38) and Nativity are part of the wings of an altarpiece of the Virgin, the central element of which has been lost. Of the six other surviving panels, a Presentation in the Temple and Birth of the Virgin (each 105 x 91.6 cm) are in the Johnson Collection, Philadelphia; an Adoration of the Magi and Presentation of the Virgin form the obverse and reverse of a single panel (101 x 90.5 cm) in the Klosterkirche at Fischingen in Thurgau, Switzerland; and scenes of Joachim Cast out of the Temple and the Meeting at the Golden Gate (92.5 x 92.6 cm and 93 x 92.7 cm, respectively) are in the Diözesanmuseum, Rottenburg. Stange's (1957) reconstruction shows the four scenes following in sequence up to the Presentation of the Virgin arranged from the upper left to right when the altarpiece was closed, while the four scenes beginning with the Annunciation and showing the infancy of Christ he has arranged chronologically from upper left to right of the central image when the altarpiece was open. Pieper (in Knoepfli 1955), on the other hand, suggests that the MMA, Philadelphia, Fischingen, and Rottenburg panels formed the left wing of an altarpiece.

Schmid (2004) asserts that the altarpiece came from the Cistercian convent of Gutenzell and entered the Braun family during the secularization of the abbey in 1803.
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