Depicting a continuous scene across three panels, this family portrait adapts the conventions of the triptych altarpiece to the new demands of Protestant devotion. Both the painter and the sitters of this monumental family portrait are unknown today, but the church spires that appear reflected on the orb in Christ’s hand associate them with the North German city of Hamburg. The verses inscribed on the tablets above the figures were taken verbatim from a Low German edition of Martin Luther’s Bible translation. Christ’s presence in the midst of this domestic gathering bespeaks a deeply Lutheran understanding of Christ’s direct accessibility to believers.
#2632. Investigations: Christ Blessing, Surrounded by a Donor and His Family, Part 1
2632. Investigations: Christ Blessing, Surrounded by a Donor and His Family, Part 1
2632. Christ Blessing, Surrounded by a Donor and His Family
This artwork is meant to be viewed from right to left. Scroll left to view more.
Center panel in frame
Left panel in frame
Right panel in frame
Fig. 1. Infrared Reflectogram, center panel
Fig. 2. X-radiograph detail, center panel
Fig. 3. Infrared Reflectogram, left panel
Fig. 4. Infrared Reflectogram, right panel
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Fig. 5. Painting in frame: corner
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Fig. 6. Painting in frame: angled corner
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Fig. 7. Profile drawing of frame. W 4 13/16 in. 11.2 cm (T. Newbery)
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Title:Christ Blessing, Surrounded by a Donor Family
Artist:German Painter (probably active Hamburg and Lower Saxony, 1560s–80s)
Medium:Oil and gold on oak
Dimensions:Central panel 31 3/8 x 37 5/8 in. (79.7 x 95.6 cm); each wing 32 x 14 5/8 in. (81.3 x 37.1 cm)
Credit Line:Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
This triptych depicts a family of seven gathered closely around Christ; the group is engaged in a dialogue on salvation and the afterlife through the biblical verses inscribed overhead. Four tablets on the walls bearing invocatory verses from the Book of Psalms are aligned with the four eldest family members, and on the central tablet appear Jesus’s words from the Gospel of John, 14:19, "Because I live, ye shall live also." These texts are in Low German (Niederdeutsch), the vernacular of much of northern Germany. Their verbatim source is Johannes Bugenhagen’s (1485–1558) Low German edition of Martin Luther’s Bible translation.
The Christ figure here is the Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World). Although the family remains unidentified, they surely hailed from Hamburg, for, as comparison with contemporary printed, drawn, and painted views confirms, the churches depicted on the orb are those of the great Hanseatic city. Shown in a topographically accurate view from the east, the churches are, from left to right, Saint Catherine (stepped gable at far left), Saint Nicholas, the Cathedral, Saint James, Saint Peter, and Saint John (small building with ridge turret).
The double-gabled roof of the tower of the church of Saint James, at the very center of the orb, existed in this form only until 1582. In addition, dendrochronological analysis of the triptych’s oak panels derives a plausible date of creation of the painting of 1573 upward. This combined evidence supports an approximate date of about 1575 to 1580 for the work, a dating that is corroborated by the painting’s style and costume types.
The former attribution of this triptych to Ludger tom Ring the Younger (1522–1584; Hölker 1927, Kuhn 1936, Wehle and Salinger 1947, Gmelin 1996) does not withstand close comparison with authentic works by that artist, and the attribution to Peter Spitzer (d. 1571) put forth in some of the literature (Pieper 1954, Riewerts and Pieper 1955, Lorenz 1996) fails on chronological as well as stylistic grounds. The unknown artist at work here achieves an extraordinary psychological penetration in the sitters’ resolute gazes and the sensitive treatment of youth and old age. He builds up flesh tones in an idiosyncratic but highly effective way, applying an intricate network of crisscrossed, feathery brushstrokes. The only other known work that is probably by the same hand is the 1579 portrait of Ernst von Reden in a private collection. Von Reden was steward (Statthalter) of the ducal residence of Celle under Wilhelm the Younger of Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1535–1592), and, in fact, the painted wings of the altarpiece in the castle chapel in Celle (before 1576?), showing donor portraits of Duke Wilhelm and his wife, Dorothy of Denmark, are comparable in style to The Metropolitan Museum’s triptych. It is thus conceivable that the Hamburg family in this triptych had some connection to the ducal court in Celle. The associations of the unknown artist with Celle (not far from Hanover) and with Hamburg to the north place his sphere of activity in and around the region of modern Lower Saxony.
Highly unusual in an image of this sort is the intimate, shoulder-to-shoulder proximity of the sitters to Christ and the complete lack of prayer gestures. The closest iconographical antecedents are depictions of Christ flanked by the Twelve Apostles, commonly found in pre-Reformation altarpieces. The Lutheran donors of this work may well have known that precedent and wished to associate themselves with the apostles, as believers who experienced Christ’s everyday and real presence in their lives. Indeed, the triptych evokes biblical passages that underscore Christ’s presence among his followers, such as John 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us," or Matthew 18:20, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." The question of function and original display context remains unanswered. Though the work adopts the common triptych format of an altarpiece, it certainly was not used as such. The emphasis on salvation in the inscriptions and the Salvator Mundi Christ type suggest a memorial function, perhaps as part of a family epitaph in a church. In that case, the cut flowers on the table would symbolize the fleeting nature of earthly life.
[adapted from Waterman in Ainsworth and Waterman 2013]
The support for this triptych is oak from western Germany. The three boards used to construct the central panel, in which the grain is oriented horizontally, originated in a single tree. The wings, composed of two boards each, with the grain oriented vertically, are both from a different tree. Dendrochronological analysis indicates an earliest possible fabrication date of 1563 and a more plausible date of 1573 or later. The frames are original and were engaged to the panels when the ground preparation was applied. In a treatment before the triptych entered the collection, the panels were removed from the engaged frames and cradled. In a subsequent treatment, the cradles were removed, and custom-made spring tension strainers were attached. The wings retain the unpainted wood margin, but the unpainted borders of the central panel have been trimmed up to the very edge of the painting and wood strips .64 centimeter high were added on the top and bottom. On the inside rabbet of the frames for the wings, remnants of the fluid ground preparation that seeped between the panel and frame during the application correspond exactly to remnants on the unpainted wood borders of both panels. This evidence confirms that the frames are original.
Throughout the composition, a full-bodied paint was applied in a distinctive manner that allows the brushwork to remain visible; working wet on wet, the artist softened contours with perpendicular, feathery strokes of paint. This personal aspect of the artist’s technique is particularly apparent in the painting of the faces. After the first application of paint was dry, a very fine tipped brush was used to apply strokes of red, brown, and black to finish the features and enhance the ruddier complexions of the two older men and the oldest woman. The directionally worked strokes of paint applied with stiff-bristled brushes, combined with a low impasto, give an impression of barely contained vitality to the serious, reserved figures. Changes were made to the scene depicted in the orb under Christ’s hand during painting. In the underlying layers of pigment there are, on the right, two additional churches and a tree; at the center, a tree; and on the left, an additional domed building, another building beneath the tiered structure, and a large tree. Christ’s halo was first indicated by incising arcs with a compass after the initial paint layers of the green drapery backdrop had been laid down but before the final green glaze was applied. It was then fashioned in shell gold applied with a small brush.
The paintings are in very good condition overall. On the wings there are many small paint losses along the wood grain caused by movement of the whole support as well as along the panel joins. There are large areas of loss on the right wing in the woman’s cape and cuffs. On the central panel there are localized areas of loss in the paneling, curtain, Christ’s hair, and the still life.
The noticeably pale skin tones of most of the figures are due to fading of red lake pigment; the ruddier complexions of the two older men are attributable to the addition of a second opaque red pigment. Christ’s cloak was originally red, but the red lake has faded nearly completely, leaving only the opaque salmon red in the darkest passages of the garment. The now-pale pink blooms in the still life were originally a deeper red. In addition, the green foliage may include an organic yellow pigment that has faded, causing the leaves and stems to appear cool in tone.
The brown tone of the shadows of Christ’s undergarment derives from a discolored smalt blue. Particles of an opaque red can be seen mixed in the white underpaint. Possibly Christ was originally wearing a mauve-colored garment beneath a lighter, more opaque red cloak.
The perimeters of the frames painted around the verses on the walls behind the figures are now grayish ocher color; the combination of a coarse blue pigment and red lake was probably originally purple but is now muted by the fading of the red lake. Similarly, the green marble insets in the walls behind the figures appear to have discolored to some degree and would originally have had a richer tonality.
Infrared reflectography carried out on all the panels revealed extensive underdrawing executed in a dry medium, probably black chalk (see figs. 1, 3, 4 above). The underdrawing can be seen with the unaided eye below some of the thinner passages of paint. The contours of the figures were drawn with multiple lines, and shading—including half-tones—was indicated with vigorous diagonal hatching, some of which is very loose and calligraphic. The handling suggests that the figures were rapidly worked up from life. Several of the heads were drawn slightly smaller than they were painted: that of the man in the left wing, the man at the far left of the central panel, the young boy, the oldest woman, and the woman in the right panel. The head of Christ was also considerably smaller in its first conception, and his hands were underdrawn with particular emphasis. Elements of the still life were indicated with loose contours and hatching, which is more limited in the flowers. The buildings within Christ’s orb appear to have been very lightly underdrawn. Extensive underdrawing was seen in the walls of the room, the curtain, and the plaques. Four incised lines made with a straightedge served as guides for the lettering on the plaque above Christ’s head. Incisions made with a compass were used to place the orb, the clasp of Christ’s cloak, and, as mentioned above, the nimbus around his head.
[2013; adapted from German Paintings catalogue]
Inscription: Inscribed on central panel: (central plaque) ICK LEVE. VND GŸ SCHO- / LEN OCK LEVEN, IOH[ANNES]: 14· ([Because] I live, ye shall live also, John 14[:19]); (left plaque) HERE LATH MIJ DI NE / GNADE WEDERVAREN, / DINE HVLPE NA DI- / NEM WORDE, / PSAL. 118 (Let thy mercies come also unto me, . . . even thy salvation, according to thy word, [sic for Psalms 119:41].); (right plaque) HERE. WENN ICK / MEN DŸ HEBBE / SO FRAGE ICK NICHT / NA HEMEL VNDE / ERDE, PSALM. 73· (Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee, Psalms 73[:25].); (over sitters' heads, left to right) ÆTA. / TIS / 21; ÆTATIS 54; ÆTATIS·6·; ÆTATIS 52.; ÆTAT: / 16. Inscribed on left wing: (over sitter's head) ÆTATIS 33; (on plaque) EINS BIDDE ICK VA DE / HEREN DAT HEDDE ICK / GERNE, DAT ICK IM HV- / SE DES HEREN BLIVEN / MOGE MŸN LEVE / LANCK, PSAL: 27 (One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, Psalms 27[:4]). Inscribed on right wing: (over sitter's head) ÆTATIS 18.; (on plaque) HERE WENDE MŸNE / OGENN AFF DAT SE / NICHT SEHEN NA VN- / NVTTER LERE. SODER / VERQVICKE MY VP DINEM / WEGE. PSAL 119 (Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way. Psalms 119[:37])
J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (by 1908–d. 1913; his estate, 1913–17)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "German Drawings: Masterpieces from Five Centuries," May 10–June 10, 1956, suppl. no. 201.
LOAN OF THIS WORK IS RESTRICTED.
Catalogue of the Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1911 [under Addenda to the 1905 Catalogue, January–February 1908, unpaginated], as by "Antonis Mor (?)," lent by J. Pierpont Morgan.
"The Pierpont Morgan Gift." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 13 (January 1918), p. 17, as by Ludger tom Ring.
Karl Hölker. Die Malerfamilie tom Ring [Beiträge zur Westfälischen Kunstgeschichte, Heft 8]. Münster, 1927, pp. 49, 86, no. 90, pls. XXIV–XXV, attributes it to Ludger tom Ring the Younger.
Max Geisberg inWestfälische Lebensbilder. Ed. Aloys Bömer and Otto Leunenschloß. Vol. 2, 1931, p. 48, attributes it to Ludger tom Ring the Younger.
Karl Hölker inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 28, Leipzig, 1934, p. 364, as by Ludger tom Ring the Younger.
Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 34, no. 73, attributes it to Ludger tom Ring and dates it about 1575.
Emil Waldmann. "Deutsche Kunst in amerikanischen Museen." Der Türmer: Deutsche Monatshefte 39 (January 1937), p. 300, ill. p. 297, states that the city reflected in the orb is Soest.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 229–31, ill., describe this altarpiece as "one of the rare religious paintings by the younger Ludger tom Ring" and note that "In the close proximity of the very human figures to Christ it demonstrates one of the chief tenets of Protestantism, the easy and direct approach of man to God"; add that the chief families of Münster (home to the Ring family of painters) were loyal Catholics and suggest the family portrayed here were rich burghers in Protestant Brunswick; observe that the ages of the sitters are provided, but their names are not, perhaps an indication that the triptych was installed in a chapel known by the family name; identify the man on the left wing as the donor, with his wife on the right, and his parents and unmarried siblings on the central panel; state that the city reflected in Christ's orb cannot be identified with a particular place.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 413, no. 1104–6, ill.
Kjell Boström. "De oorspronkelijke Bestemming van Ludger tom Rings Stillevens." Oud-Holland 67 (1952), p. 54, suggests that the flowers on the table symbolize almighty God.
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 84.
Heinrich Zimmermann. "Vorträge am 31. Juli 1954, Heinrich Zimmermann (Berlin): Peter Spitzer [this issue is devoted to the "Fünfter deutscher Kunsthistorikertag, Hannover, 28.–31. Juli 1954"]." Kunstchronik 7, no. 10 (October 1954), pp. 289–90, constructs an oeuvre for the artist Peter Spitzer on the basis of his 1547 engraving of Brunswick in the Herzog-August-Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, and includes, along with three epitaph paintings in the Wittenberg Stadtkirche, the altarwings with donor portraits in the schlosskapelle at Celle; notes that he had also considered including the MMA triptych in Spitzer's oeuvre but rejected it.
Paul Pieper. "Diskussion zum Vortrag Zimmermann [comments on the paper delivered by Heinrich Zimmermann, see Ref. Zimmermann 1954]." Kunstchronik 7, no. 10 (1954), p. 290, suggests that our triptych, in addition to the Celle wings [both traditionally ascribed to Ludger tom Ring the Younger], might be given to Peter Spitzer.
Theodor Riewerts and Paul Pieper. Die Maler tom Ring: Ludger der Ältere, Hermann, Ludger der Jüngere. [Munich], 1955, pp. 48–50, 120–21, no. 138, pls. 121–24 (overall and details), describe our triptych as a representation of the Biblical text, "For where two or three are assembled in my name, there am I in the midst of them" [Matthew 18:20]; remark that in comparison with Ludger's "usual communicativeness," this work does not bear the artist's monogram, and tentatively support an attribution to Spitzer; note that the face of Christ looks somewhat empty and almost saccharine to us now, but was intended to posess an idealized, impersonal beauty; Riewerts identifies the young woman on the right wing as the oldest daughter of the family in the center panel, noting her resemblance to the mother, and, still more, her sister and oldest brother; Pieper, however, supports Wehle and Salinger [Ref. 1947] in identifying the man on the left wing as the oldest son in this family.
Hubertus Schwartz. Soest in seinen Denkmälern. Vol. 1, Profane Denkmäler. Soest, 1955, pp. 54–56, ill. (detail of orb), identifies the city reflected in Christ's orb as Soest, observing however that the representation is not very exact.
Friedrich Winkler. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. June 7, 1956, observes that he and his colleague [Heinrich] Zimmermann reject attribution of the triptych to Ludger tom Ring the Younger and find it "better in many regards"; suggests that our picture could be by Peter Spitzer, a court painter in Brunswick that Zimmermann is interested in, noting that Sptizer's best work seems to be the wings of an altar in the chapel of Celle Castle; adds that he is "not yet convinced, your paintings could be by another north german artist, but surely they are not by the stiff—notwithstanding artistic and original—Ludger tom Ring".
Carla Gottlieb. "The Mystical Window in Paintings of the Salvator Mundi." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 56 (December 1960), p. 332 n. 40.
Fred Brauen. "A Late Sixteenth Century German Devotional Triptych." Master's thesis, New York University, 1964, pp. 1–93, figs. 1a–1c (overall and details), proposes that the wings of this altarpiece were not part of the original composition; identifies the language of the inscriptions as Low German and the city reflected in the glass orb as Soest; doubts that our altarpiece and the Celle wings are from the same hand; calls our frame contemporary with the painting, noting that the frames for the Celle wings are similar.
Fred Brauen. Ludger tom Ring's Devotional Triptych in New York: Further Evidence Toward Its Dating and Identification. 1965, pp. 1–26, figs. 1, 2 (overall and detail), assumes that the city reflected in the orb is Soest and identifies the family as the von Kleppings of Soest, based on an inscripton on a grave recorded in Ref. Schwartz (vol. 3, p. 43) that is similar to one on a plaque in our painting.
Heinrich Zimmermann. Letter to Claus Virch. March 2, 1970, notes that the wings of the Celle altarpiece show the same kind of flowers that appear in our painting, and that this very individual arrangement of the cut flowers is otherwise unknown; adds that Spitzer [to whom he attributes the Celle altarwings] has included a vase with similarly handled flowers in Marten de Vos's Celle panel representing the angel of the Annunciation; mentions a view of Hamburg in an article by [Carl] Schellenberg [Eine Hamburger Stadtansicht aus dem 16. Jahrhundert, published in Ehrengabe des Museums fuer Hamburgische Geschichte, 1939, ill. p. 119] that seems to him to be related stylistically to the cityscape on the glass orb in our painting.
Fred Brauen. Ludger tom Ring and the Kleppings of Soest: The New York Triptych. 1974, pp. 1–80, figs. 1, 2 (overall and detail).
Gerhard Langemeyer in "Das Stilleben als Attribut." Stilleben in Europa. Ed. Gerhard Langemeyer and Hans-Albert Peters. Exh. cat., Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte. Münster, 1979, p. 226, ill. p. 224, describes it as a cross between an allegory and a portrait and notes that the individual flowers on the table are juxtaposed with the entire world, in the form of Christ's orb.
Hans Ost. "Ein italo-flämisches Hochzeitsbild und Überlegungen zur ikonographischen Struktur des Gruppenportraits im 16. Jahrhundert." Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 41 (1980), pp. 131, 137–38, fig. 6, notes that MMA triptych, like the Italo-Flemish "Wedding at Cana" that he publishes (about 1580, private collection, Cologne), integrates two levels of reality in combining a figure of worship with contemporary portraits.
E. de Jongh. Portretten van echt en trouw: Huwelijk en gezin in de Nederlandse kunst van de zeventiende eeuw. Exh. cat., Frans Halsmuseum, Haarlem. Zwolle, The Netherlands, 1986, pp. 36, 63 n. 5, fig. 31, notes that as in double portraits or pendants, in which the man appears on the heraldic right of his wife and she on his left, the men in this altarpiece are depicted on Christ's right, and the women on his left; comments on the moral and religious symbolism linking the right with life, light, God, and Christ, and the left with unluckiness, death, and the devil; also remarks that the men do not wear hats, while the women do, a custom that was in place into the seventeenth century, especially among the strictly religious, and which derives from 1 Corinthians,11:5, "But every woman that prayest or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head . . . ".
Diane Owen Hughes. "Representing the Family: Portraits and Purposes in Early Modern Italy." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 17 (Summer 1986), p. 36 n. 38.
Sophie McConnell. Metropolitan Jewelry. New York, 1991, pp. 26, 82, ill. pp. 27, 82–83 (in color, overall and detail), discusses the fashion in the early sixteenth century of wearing large, heavy chains, noting that in Flanders and Germany they were mostly worn by women, as is the case in our triptych.
J. G. Links. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. September 13, 1993, describes the fur worn by the young man in the left wing as "a serious but . . . [judging from a photograph] not very skilled attempt to portray marten of some kind" and notes that "the longer rump hair and shorter hair at the neck are clearly shown, also the dark stripe at the mane"; calls the fur worn by the older man in the central panel "various pieces, probably waste, of fur . . . joined to make an attractive collar. Probably different parts of squirrel pelts but fancifully painted and without serious attempt at realism".
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 228, ill. p. 229.
Die Maler tom Ring. Ed. Angelika Lorenz. Exh. cat., Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte. Münster, 1996, vol. 2, pp. 644–45, no. 202, ill., due to family resemblance believes the man on the left wing is the son of the couple in the central panel; notes that K. H. Kirchhoff of Münster suggests the city reflected in Christ's orb could be Bremen, Braunschweig, or Lüneburg.
Birgit Hahn-Woernle. Sebastian Stoskopff: Mit einem kritischen Werkverzeichnis der Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1996, pp. 79, 81 n. 25, ill. (central panel), as by "Peter Spitzer?"; states that the flowers refer to the Passion and to Paradise.
Sam Segal inDie Maler tom Ring. Ed. Angelika Lorenz. Exh. cat., Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte. Münster, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 134, 147 nn. 128–29, notes that the handling of the flowers on the table before Christ has nothing in common with those of Ludger, and that Hermann tom Ring, who was Catholic, could not have painted this very Protestant painting; identifies the flowers depicted here.
Peter Klein. Letter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. July 5, 1996, notes that all the boards of the left and right wing come from one tree, and those from the middle panel come from a second tree; gives an earliest creation date for the painting of 1563, but a more plausible creation date of 1573 upward.
Hans Georg Gmelin inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 26, New York, 1996, p. 408, mentions this triptych as an oustanding work from Ludger's time in Brunswick, along with his portraits of Reinhard and Gese Reiner (1569, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Brunswick).
Jutta Held. Letter to Maryan Ainsworth. November 13, 2000, states that the inscriptions in the painting are written in Niederdeutsch and that their probable source was the "Bugenhagen-Bibel"; observes that Bugenhagen, a colleague of Martin Luther, translated Luther's Bible into Niederdeutsch (a dialect that was used in the region between Sauerland and Pommern).
Ingrid Schulze. Lucas Cranach d. J. und die protestantische Bildkunst in Sachsen und Thüringen: Frömmigkeit, Theologie, Fürstenreformation. Bucha bei Jena, 2004, p. 186.
Gisela Jaacks. E-mail to Joshua Waterman. August 5, 2005, agrees that the city reflected in Christ's orb is Hamburg seen from the east, identifies the various church towers and notes that the facade of St. Katharine's looked like this only between 1569 and 1596, and thus provides termini post and ante quem; also remarks that the costumes, especially those of the women, reflect those of four Hamburg women that appear in a drawing by Melchior Lorichs (Evelyn Collection, Stonor Park); notes that Lorichs was in Hamburg only between 1568 and 1575, but she doubts the drawing was made before 1570; observes that the jewelry of the women reveals that they were from Hamburg's upper class, adding that such luxury would only have been conceivable in its uppermost strata.
Joshua P. Waterman in Maryan W. Ainsworth and Joshua P. Waterman. German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 235–42, 319–20, no. 55, ill. (color), figs. 192 (color detail), 193 (x-radiograph detail), 195 (color detail), 196 (central panel, infrared reflectogram).
Thomas E. Rassieur inMartin Luther and the Reformation. Exh. cat., Morgan Library & Museum, New York. [Dresden], 2016, pp. 426–27 n. 20, fig. 3 (color).
Although the frames of this triptych have been repainted and regilded several times, the decoration is essentially original. The method of their construction and the use of the pigments azurite and smalt, of decorative medallions, and of stamped paper ornament are in keeping with the taste of the period. All three are box frames made of oak. All were constructed with a lap joint on the back and four miters on the face to secure the corners. The sight edge and outer moldings were adhered to the plates with glue and metal sprigs. There are wood insertions on all three frames, visible on the base, sides, and outer fillets.
The central frame was at some time slightly resized, and certain modifications to its moldings and miters appear to have been undertaken in the process. It has been modified on the upper-left and lower-right inner corners where the sight-edge molding miter is stepped. It is slightly reduced in height—lower now than the unaltered wings—and its rabbet is smaller. After the central frame was disassembled and reassembled for resizing, the back was reinforced with a wood laminate. The outer molding on the central frame appears to be a replacement, for it has one more step than the outer moldings of the wings, and whereas the sight-edge molding of all three frames and the outer moldings of the wings exhibit three campaigns of gilding, the outer molding of the central frame has only the last two series of layers.
The plate on all three frames is coated with a white preparation. Sheets of stamped paper reliefs in the form of Mannerist arabesques were applied to this ground at the corners and centers. On all three frames, cast medallions made of a resinous, fibrous composition material were applied to the corners and centers of all four sides, adhered to the paper. The wing frames have lion-head medallions at the corners, while the center frame has grotesque medallions; all three frames have identical female medallions in the center of all four sides. On all three frames, over the white ground and stamped paper there is an azurite-containing paint layer followed by a layer of smalt. These two layers do not extend under the medallions. The gilding on the arabesque reliefs is applied over an orange preparation layer. The arabesques have been overpainted several times and regilded once. The medallions are gilded over an ocher preparation layer and have been regilded at least once. The final regilded surface on the medallions and arabesques is identical to the final regilded surface on the moldings. There are minor losses throughout as well as losses to the medallions.
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