Each panel was constructed from a single plank of oak, with the grain oriented vertically. Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible creation date of 1474 with a more plausible date of 1480 onwards. The wood originated in the Baltic/Polish region. Dendrochronology also revealed that the two planks came from the same tree as the plank used for the Portrait of a Young Man
also attributed to the Master of the Saint Ursula Legend (Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, Inv. 196).
The presence of unpainted margins and barbes around all edges indicate that the original dimensions of the paintings are preserved and that the panels were prepared with engaged frames in place. At some point before entering The Met’s collection both planks were thinned to only about 2 mm. The very thin panels were each adhered to a secondary wood support, about 6 mm thick, and cradled. The thinness of the original panels could be the result of separating painted reverses by splitting the panels laterally.Preparation:
The panels were prepared with a whitish ground. Examination with infrared reflectography revealed the presence of extensive underdrawings. The underdrawing on both panels appears to be generally similar in material and technique with only a few minor differences (see figs. 10, 11 above).
The underdrawings were executed using a liquid medium and most likely a brush. The most important features of the compositions were set out with underdrawing, however, dark paint seemingly obscures these lines in the interior architecture. In both panels it appears that the artist reinforced some passages of underdrawing in a second stage, mainly emphasizing the darkest regions of drapery. This second stage can be seen in the deepest folds, using very bold lines that end in perpendicular short marks, or in passages where there seem to be two layers of hatchmarks.
The main difference between the underdrawings in the two panels is the degree of neatness. The hatchmarks in the Saint Paul and the donor panel are messier, particularly in the second stage, with lines that are irregular and run in all directions, seemingly quickly applied. These lines also have an angularity that is difficult to achieve with a brush but more commonly seen when a pen is used. On the other hand, in the Christ Appearing to his Mother panel, the hatchmarks are neater: evenly-spaced, in short, parallel rows. There is also more hatching in this scene in general, as in Christ’s arms and the Virgin’s head-covering. The underdrawing in this panel appears to have been entirely done with a brush. These differences are not so pronounced as to suggest different hands, but rather, the same artist working in a slightly different manner. Both include bold lines with short perpendicular marks reinforcing deep folds, and similar short rows of hatchmarks, yet, the Saint Paul panel appears to have been done with less care and more speed than the Christ panel. As Maryan Ainsworth suggests (see Catalogue entry), it is possible that the difference could be related to the subject matter: Christ Appearing to His Mother presents a popular composition, and so the artist may have reproduced a drawing. A standing saint and kneeling donor was also a standard composition, but could more easily have been improvised in its details by this artist.
In general, the painted compositions follow the underdrawings, with a few minor adjustments, most noticeably, to the arms of the donor and the fingers of Saint Paul. In Christ Appearing to his Mother
, the underdrawing for the circular window included a quatrefoil with a shield at the center that was not painted.
There seems to be another preliminary drawing or painting that is not apparent with infrared reflectography. In the Saint Paul panel there are several series of small paint losses that are located at some of the contours of the figures—around the head of Saint Paul and the contours of the drapery for example—but seem to follow a different background. (These losses are reintegrated in the current restoration of the painting but can be seen in the infrared reflectogram and the x-radiograph; fig. 12) In the upper right of the composition, losses are located in lines that seem reminiscent of architectural features: a capital at upper right, a lower, beamed roof, lower window sills, and some horizontals that could be related to details on a wall at the far right. On close examination the losses are not solid shapes but areas where the painting craquelure is particularly wide, accompanied by some minor losses with jagged edges down to the ground, as if there was some adherence issue in those spots. This phenomenon, combined with the fact that the losses seem to follow a different interior, could be explained by the paint not adhering properly to an underlying design, different from the underdrawing recorded in the reflectogram.Paint Layers:
Technical examination revealed some inconsistencies in the painting technique, most significantly, the donor seems to have been painted in a manner different from the other three figures.
The heads of Saint Paul, Christ, and the Virgin were painted with a focused use of lead white, restricted to highlights, as can be seen in the x-radiographs (figs. 12, 13). In fact, it appears that the white was applied, nearly pure, as a final step; the highlights on the nose and around the eye sockets have some body and seem to be the uppermost paint layer (fig. 14) The artist often juxtaposed discrete strokes of lighter and darker paint, resulting in a good deal of contrast. The head of Saint Paul is the most pronounced example, but a similar approach can be seen in Christ and the Virgin as well. On the other hand, the head of the donor was painted with more blended passages of paint (fig. 15). The white was mixed in more broadly to the fleshtones resulting in less pronounced contrasts of light and dark. The disparity in the heads can also be seen in the x-radiograph. Furthermore, a blue pigment was mixed into the fleshtones of the donor; only a scattering of blue that gives a hardly perceptible cool cast to his skin, but not evident in the other three.
The eyes also provide a good example of the disparate approaches. In Saint Paul the paint was applied sparingly, with a translucent brown for the iris, and a high contrast of bright and dark to create the eyelids, and suggest volume within the eye sockets. In the eyes of the donor, the paint was applied in a more opaque fashion to the irises and the paint more blended around the eyes, lacking the contrast that gives the others such depth. The hands of the donor are also different from the other three, not only in painting technique but appearance, with shorter, thicker fingers in contrast to the unnaturally elongated fingers seen elsewhere. It is possible that a painting made from life, or from a portrait study, would have a slightly different character than depictions of standard types. Yet, the differences in how the paint is actually applied suggest a different hand altogether.
Within the architectural interiors some differences in technique are also apparent. The tiled floor in Christ Appearing to his Mother
has a more effective recession back in space, with the marbling applied in an accomplished manner. On the other hand, the tiles in the Saint Paul panel are merely speckled and have a flat overall appearance. The columns in the Christ panel are also a more accomplished rendition of marble, while those in the Saint Paul are simply brown with minimal veining.
The gilded haloes of the three holy figures appear to be original and all rendered in a similar fashion, with mordant gilding over a greyish-beige colored mordant. Underneath the greyish mordant a pale yellow paint can be glimpsed, following the same design; possibly that the haloes were first sketched in with the yellow paint. The tiny halo on the decapitated Paul was also gilded, but with a dark brown mordant (fig. 16).
The paintings are generally in fair condition. Aside from the losses in the Saint Paul with a Donor panel, seemingly related to a preliminary design, there are only scattered paint losses on both paintings. There is some minor abrasion to the uppermost paint layers, primarily the warm brown passages. The green robe of Saint Paul has suffered abrasion, now integrated in the current restoration. It appears that some red lakes have faded in the Virgin’s purplish robe.
Sophie Scully 2022
 Wood identification and dendrochronological analysis completed by Dr. Peter Klein, Universität Hamburg, report dated May 23, 2014. The report can be found in the files of the Department of Paintings Conservation. “The youngest heartwood ring was formed out in the year 1463. Regarding the sapwood statistic of Eastern Europe an earliest felling date can be derived for the year 1472, more plausible is a felling date between 1476..1478….1482. With a minimum of 2 years for seasoning an earliest creation of the painting is possible from 1474 upwards. Under the assumption of a median of 15 sapwood rings and 2 years for seasoning, as probably usual in the 14th/15th century, a creation is plausible from 1480 upwards.”
 Infrared reflectography was acquired with an OSIRIS InGaAs near-infrared camera fitted with a 6-element, 150mm focal length f/5.6–f/45 lens; 900-1700nm spectral response, July 2022.
 Two somewhat similar examples of an underdrawing material possibly causing paint losses were noted in the Met’s Perino del Vaga oil on panel of The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist
) and the Dieric Bouts tüchlein of The Entombment, The National Gallery, London (NG644). The underdrawing material was not identified in either and the mechanics of this possible phenomenon remains a question. See Michael Gallagher's Technical Notes for 2011.26
and David Bomford, Ashok Roy and Alistair Smith, “The Techniques of Dieric Bouts: Two Paintings Contrasted,” 10 (1986), p. 46.