Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
The donor of this fine group of panels, originally from an altarpiece, was Simon Götz, abbot of the monastery at Obermarchtal between 1482 and 1514. He is depicted kneeling below the figure of Saint Anne and can be identified from his coat-of-arms held up by the putto in the same panel. The entire altarpiece seems to have been dismantled in the 19th century and may have been in a chapel dedicated to Mary and Saint Elizabeth in a building acquired by the monastery near Ehingen. Prior to their acquisition for the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, the panels were recorded in 1900 in the collection of Baroness Wilhelmine von Gruben in Ratisbon, then in Vienna in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein.
The two panels on the exterior of the wings depict Saint Anne the Virgin and Child, an iconographic theme known as the “Triple Anne”. They also depict Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. The background, which is painted as a uniform one that runs across the two panels, takes the form of a rich brocade cloth that functions as a curtain, neatly hung from a bar on which perch two pairs of birds. Outlined against an intense blue background in the upper part of the background is a trilobate arch with a decoration of interwoven branches with foliate and floral motifs.
The “Triple Anne” was a popular theme in 15th and 16th century Germany. In the present panel the artist depicted the three generations with Saint Anne standing, holding the Christ Child on one arm and extending her other arm around the young Mary, who approaches Christ, holding out a book. On the other panel Saint Elizabeth of Hungary can be identified by her attributes: the small loaf and jug of water that she offers to the beggars at her feet. In addition, she is depicted as the patron saint of those suffering from ringworm, as indicated by the comb that she holds. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was also patron saint of hospitals due to her charitable acts for the poor and sick. The figures on these two exterior panels are constructed with a marked sense of volume, accentuated by their ample robes painted in saturated and contrasting colours. The artist used the tones of the floor tiles to emphasise a perspectival structure that is not fully resolved.
The scenes on the interiors of the wings use a gold background, against which the artist sets small areas of landscape and architectural settings used to locate the narratives in the foreground. Both compositions are inspired by prints by Schongauer and Dürer. In The Adoration of the Shepherds the present artist looked to Schongauer’s Nativity, from which he borrowed the group of singing angels and the figure of Saint Joseph. The artist completed this composition with the group of angels surrounding Christ in the manger and with the shepherds, who are all taken from Dürer’s Nativity in The Life of the Virgin series. For The Presentation in the Temple he borrowed details from another print by Dürer on the same subject, also from The Life of the Virgin series.
In the 1958 catalogue of the private collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein these doors were attributed to Martin Schaffner (1477/78–1549). This incorrect attribution was replaced by that of an Anonymous Master Active in Ulm in the catalogues of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection published from 1969 onwards. The present attribution was made by Lübbeke, who considered the bright, light-toned chromatic range used in The Presentation to be a significant element and to suggest a Swabian artist.
These panels were originally the doors of a triptych whose central motif may have been a group of freestanding, polychrome wooden sculptures. In 1994 Lübbeke4 suggested that this might be the “Triple Anna” flanked by a Saint Peter and a Saint Elizabeth of Hungary now in the Dominikanermuseum in Rottweil.