Review: Julien Chapuis

Brigitte Corley, review 'Julien Chapuis, Stefan Lochner: Image Making in Fifteenth-Century Cologne', Kunstchronik, February 2005, pp. 109-112.

The eagerly awaited volume on Stefan Lochner has finally been produced, eight years after it was first announced by his publishers. It was generally assumed that the author delayed publication repeatedly because, in the light of recent scholarship, he needed time to reconsider the text of his expanded dissertation 'Underdrawing in Paintings of the Stefan Lochner Group'. It is the more disappointing that the handsome, generously illustrated volume that has finally been published shows no evidence of a new investigation as "art historical disputes are kept to a minimum and confined to footnotes" (p.39). Chapuis contents himself with a largely visual approach, an enthusiastic celebration of the paintings ascribed to Stefan Lochner. Tellingly, the introductory survey 'Perception of the Artist and his Work' is padded with material of dubious relevance and does not really look beyond the 1950s.

Curiously, the book is presented as the initial volume of a Metropolitan Museum series on "well-known artists" whose paintings "are deemed autograph due to inscriptions, to reliable documentary evidence, or to self-portraiture within the work or works". It is hard to see how a monograph on Stefan Lochner could fit the criteria. After all, "none of the works ascribed to Lochner is signed or documented as being by him" (p. 28) or contains self-portraiture. The name of the painter is linked to an oeuvre only by a dubious assessment in the nineteenth century of Dürer's preferences among those Cologne works that had then survived the vagaries of time. Yet the "beautiful" Dombild said to have attracted Dürer's attention in 1520 had been painted eight decades before his visit, was antiquated in style and was already known to him. Can such idiosyncratic attribution be equated with "reliable documentary evidence"?

Chapuis' optimistic assessment of available documents promises, however, that "circumstantial evidence in support of the traditional identification is considerable" (p. 28). To this purpose he claims exceptional wealth and social status for the artist on the grounds that Lochner purchased two houses (albeit heavily mortgaged) and was twice elected to represent his guild on the city council. Yet, surviving property and wealth tax records demonstrate that Lochner's achievements were by no means exceptional among the painters of Cologne. Admittedly, few prospered like Hermann Wynrich van Wesel who recorded interest in some twenty properties and represented his profession four times. Equally suspect is the author's notion of Lochner's unrivalled artistic status. In evidence he cites the council commission of 1442 to paint the city coat of arms on shields for a wine barrel and for the headgear of ten oxen, as well as a trumpet banner and four staves, all for use during festivities arranged to entertain emperor Friedrich III in Cologne.We are told that these modest pieces, Lochner's only recorded work, were "the most important decorations" (p. 26) commissioned for the event. Yet it was customary to display large paintings in the form of triumphal arches, simulated tapestries or fictive architecture to enhance the magnificent processions, banquets and tournaments arranged for princely visitors. The councillors of Cologne would have entrusted the most complex among these decorations to the most eminent painter of the city; in 1442 that clearly was not Lochner.

The flaw in the author's circumstantial evidence also undermines his assertion that the council commission of 1442 establishes Lochner as the painter of the great altarpiece in the council chapel (now in the Cathedral). Nor is it sufficient to simply brush aside the many arguments against this attribution (discussed, for instance, in Kunstchronik Nov. 1994, pp. 696-711). A more scholarly approach could not ignore the fact that, when Dürer offered a drink to the journeyman of the painter he named Stefan, Stefan Lochner had been buried for some seventy years. Nor that Dürer paid for the unknown altarpiece to be opened at a time when the Altarpiece of the Patron Saints of Cologne (or Dombild) would have been displayed open in the council chapel by the councillors who were entertaining the newly crowned emperor Charles V and their archbishop in their city.

More persuasive is the author's descriptive approach to some of the paintings ascribed to Stefan Lochner. Chapuis encourages the reader to look more closely at the painted forms and his enthusiasm is infectious. We linger to admire the sweet competence of music-making angels in the Last Judgement of around 1435-40 and the horrific beauty of a cruel devil, the realism of the contorted nude bodies of the condemned and the translucence of the saved souls; we celebrate the judicious juxtaposition of glowing colours and are impressed by the vigour and originality of the underdrawing style. Here, the author creates a tempting vision of an isolated creative genius working in late medieval Cologne: "In the minds of local artists and patrons, Lochner's was the only conceivable formulation of the subject" (p. 88).

Sadly, this seductive notion is hardly plausible and the pursuit of it leads to curious inconsistencies and omissions. This is the more lamentable as the title of the book suggest a less blinkered approach. Had the author considered the local tradition in the manner the title implies, he could not, for instance, have repeatedly dwelled on the musician angels to demonstrate the painter's creativity, for these angels follow designs from the Frankfurt Madonna of Humility of around 1420 by the Master of St Lawrence. Nor should he vouch for the originality of the cross-hatched method of drawing, for it can already be found in pattern sheets in Brunswick of around 1395. Nor should he extol the novelty of the punchwork, for it reflects the work of Conrad von Soest and his followers in Cologne. Even the subtle reflection of windows in jewels and armour turn out not to be location specific but just excellent workshop practice. In short, we are hardly looking at images "wrought by an individual endowed with a superior intellect, great perceptual sensitivity, and a sublime sense of beauty" (p. 231), although of the painter's exquisite craftsmanship there can be no doubt.

A perceptive look at the production methods, albeit without technical analysis of the production process or the materials, leads the author to suggest that the painter Stefan Lochner learned his art in the workshop of a goldsmith. This he substantiates by comparing Lochner's luminous colouring, the pallid flesh tones, the intricate punchwork and the use of cross-hatching with enamel techniques in French metalwork, such as the Golden Rössel in Altötting and the Reliquary of the Holy Thorn in London. In itself this is certainly an attractive and plausible suggestion and, despite the author's denial (p. 226), enamel decoration can still be found in Cologne works such as the St. Catherine of c. 1380 in the Schnütgen-Museum. It is certainly tenable that the documented Stefan Lochner from the Constance region could have been apprenticed to a Cologne goldsmith. But even a journeyman goldsmith surely needed further training to become a master painter. It should therefore not have been overlooked that the cited techniques feature not only in metalwork but also prominently in the Westphalian/Cologne tradition of painting. The Altarpiece of the Patron Saints of Cologne from the council chapel shows all the hallmarks of that painting tradition.

However, Chapuis seeks to establish a distance between the art attributed to Stefan Lochner and paintings from earlier Cologne workshops by discussing their underdrawings without reference to their surface appearance. An examination of sample panels from the workshops of the masters of St Veronica and St Lawrence yielded one detailed underdrawing but otherwise only limited contour markings for the figures. It is generally accepted that such contour markings denote the use of detailed workshop models, but Chapuis courageously deduces from his scant evidence that the painters of Cologne did not apply detailed underdrawings and that the one detailed example found amongst the few investigated, the Madonna of Humility in Cologne by the Master of St Lawrence, must be wrongly ascribed. He concludes that Lochner therefore could not have learned his vigorous and detailed drawing method in the workshop of a Cologne painter.

But then Chapuis goes on to demonstrate that the extent of underdrawing varies considerably in paintings ascribed to Stefan Lochner and ranges from very detailed drawing to limited contour markings only. In Lochner's case, we are told that a skilled master may vary his production methods and that the "absence of a typical underdrawing alone is insufficient to strike a picture from an artist's oeuvre" (p. 148). Minimal contour and foldline markings only were apparently found in the underdrawing (not illustrated) of a small painting that is considered one of Lochner's earliest works, the Virgin in the Rose Bower in Cologne. Peter Klein's dendrochronological examination of the supporting wood easily supports a very early production date (p. 310). Moreover, the style and content of the painting fits comfortably into the Cologne tradition of around 1435. Yet the author claims that it must be placed at the very end of Lochner's career when long experience allowed him to create this image "purely out of colour" (p.149). Here, a closer study of the actual painting materials and technique might have prevented such an incongruous notion.

Elsewhere the clear description of the underdrawing style and the skill in detecting small revisions and rare colour coding again demonstrate the author's perceptive talent; it is in the analysis of his findings that a lack of scholarly rigour tends to disappoint. The reader is not helped by a lack of photographic evidence in crucial cases. Nor does it seem reasonable to draw conclusions from a juxtaposition of excellent and nuerous enhanced infrared reflectograms of the Last Judgement and the Martyrdom wings with a few pallid infrared photographs from part of the central panel of the Dombild without taking note at least of the difference in transparency of the two methods of investigation. Even the one reflectogram of Dombild drapery that is shown is difficult to read and should have been computer enhanced. The author frequently fails to differentiate between underdrawing and surface lines, ignores evidence available from the painted surface, and comes to some dubious conclusions about the division of hands in the workshop. This allows him, for instance, to attribute the Annunciation figures of the Dombild to an unknown draughtsman (p.130)! Equally surprising is his attempt to allocate the Raleigh St Jerome to the Master of the Heisterbach Altarpiece.

In the last part of the book some useful technical observations are interspersed with contradictory essays seeking to differentiate between 'influence', 'borrowing' and 'emulation'. Having denied any significant "influences" on the art of Stefan Lochner, the author goes on to assert that Lochner "borrowed" from works by Jan van Eyck by making "detailed drawings" (p. 199) of certain male heads from the Ghent Altarpiece. No drawings have survived to confirm this contention and the photographic evidence presented is not entirely compelling. Still, it has long been noted that the figures in the wings of the Altarpiece of the Patron Saints and its novel angular drapery patterns refer to the Ghent Altarpiece, whilst content and technique follow Cologne precedent. Although the author appears more familiar with Netherlandish art, he does acknowledge a little local "borrowing" from the Master of St Veronica and from Conrad von Soest in a couple of sentences. He is more forthcoming on the painter's imitators and followers.

In view of the subtitle of the book, it is difficult to understand the author's failure to discuss the technical, stylistic and iconographic hallmarks of painting in Cologne in the early fifteenth century. Moreover, he consistently cites Netherlandish material when an ample number of relevant panels are available in Cologne and elsewhere, as well as documents relating to local guilds, donors and markets, both published and unpublished. Indeed, transcriptions and translations of two sets of Cologne guild regulations were readily available; they are also appended to this volume but hardly explored in the text. This failure to recognise and discuss the context in which the artist produced his works further undermines this book. In a monograph, the art historian expects to find a comprehensive and scholarly debate, with the conclusions backed by corroborative evidence.

However, the popular approach and entertaining chapter titles such as 'Beyond the Christmas Card' may indicate that Chapuis intended the volume for the general reader, who would certainly enjoy the enthusiastic descriptions of the painter's art and ability. Whether such a reader could follow the complex and often contradictory later chapters remains a mute point.

Review: Vetter, Schäfer and Kühnen

Brigitte Corley, review: 'Ewald M. Vetter, with Dorit Schäfer and Renate Kühnen: Der Ortenberger Altar', Speculum, Medieval Academy of America, pp. 277-279 (Cambridge, MA, January 2003).

The Ortenberg Altarpiece in the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, is one of the most remarkable survivals of late medieval craftsmanship in Germany. It is a triptych, showing in the central panel a Holy Kingship group attended by Saints Agnes, Barbara and Dorothea, and in the wings a Nativity and an Adoration of the Kings. The work is unusual not so much in its iconography as in its technique, in that the obverse sides of the altarpiece are decorated with largely monochrome drawings on a gold ground. The effect may be likened to that of a huge engraving (the central panel measures 100.5 x 162.5 cm) that has been enhanced by occasional patches of hand colouring. The supplementary colour is applied in a carefully restricted range of pigments to elaborate the flesh tones, hair and attributes of sacred figures, and also to denote profane objects and protagonists. However, the outstanding draughtsmanship on the festive sides is contrasted on the reverse sides of the wings by rather crude paintings of Annunciation figures set against a red ground decorated with tendrils. The red frames are original and bear golden stencilled decorations. The altarpiece is generally dated to around 1425-30.

The altarpiece came into the Darmstadt collection from the parish church of Ortenberg, Hesse, in 1867. Although exhibited repeatedly in Germany, as well as in Paris (1950) and Vienna (1962), the much admired work has hitherto attracted only sporadic research and Vetter's handsome volume provides the first substantial monograph on the Ortenberg Altarpiece. The book is divided into three parts, a general essay by Vetter, a stylistic assessment by Schäfer and a technical analysis by Kühnen.

Vetter's essay presents a sweeping survey of ideas which he has amassed during 50 years of personal acquaintance with the object. His enthusiasm leads him to rush into a long discourse without first introducing the altarpiece or the historical background that may aid our understanding of it. Clearly assuming the reader's familiarity with both the altarpiece and the relevant literature, he plunges into a brief discussion of earlier suggestions on patronage, hidden portraiture and provenance. However, Vetter's real interest lies in the ensuing main part of his essay, an interpretation of the iconography. Here, his considerable knowledge of medieval texts becomes apparent and enables him to provide numerous and diverse textural sources both for the general subject and the depicted detail. His varied and interesting quotations vividly convey the flavour of medieval thought and piety, but whether either patron or artist, or even a clerical adviser, would have had many of these texts at their command must remain the subject of debate. However, the author does not consider the question of diffusion and availability of the cited manuscripts, nor the cognitive limitations in our response to medieval thought. His complete faith in the link between diverse medieval texts and altarpiece design allows him to find additional meaning even in the saints' attributes, with St. Barbara's tower hinting at the Virgin's 'elevation' and St. Dorothea's roses celebrating the 'rose without a thorn'. He is not always fortunate either in his choice of pictorial sources. Believing the Ortenberg Adoration and the choir window at Viktring (fig. 35) to be exceptional in illustrating the popular legend that the kings were invited to kiss the hand and the foot of the Child, he discusses and illustrates eight painted compositions that do not show the double kiss. The legend is, however, illustrated in several contemporary German paintings; prominent among them is Conrad von Soest's version in Dortmund (c. 1420).

Schäfer's contribution is more tightly organised and is punctuated by helpful headings. Having stated her intention to trace the stylistic and technical sources for the altarpiece, and to explore its place in local and regional art, she commences with a perceptive and detailed description of its strict geometrical composition, the idealised facial features and elongated figure style, the decorative drapery pattern, fashion and modelling, the inventive drawing and colouring method and the limited spacial perception. She recognises many of these stylistic features as characteristic of the International Courtly Style and aptly delineates its sources and diffusion throughout Europe. The technical sources of the unusual altarpiece are, however, more difficult to define. Here, Schäfer's systematic comparison with the production method of other arts and crafts provide some interesting insights. Principal among them is a reminder that, for all its affinity with engravings in its modelling with elaborate hatching and cross-hatching strokes, the altarpiece predates that craft. However, the author can point to two contemporary woodcuts (figs 59 and 60) that already experiment with a little cross-hatching. Cross-hatched modelling strokes can also be found in the draperies of a grisaille glass painting (fig. 48) and are extensively employed in the Brunswick model-book of c. 1390 (figs 56-57). The obvious comparisons with goldsmiths' work are here extended to pertinent punchwork and drawing in paintings. Curiously, Schäfer does not discuss the painted representation of an altarpiece of similar technique and drawing style in 'Stefan Lochner's' Darmstadt Presentation (1447).

More difficult to follow is Schäfer's evidence for a Middle Rhenish provenance, especially as she cites diversity as the characteristic of the style of that region and takes her evidence from sculpture. A wider focus should have brought to her attention the stylistic affinity to paintings from areas reached by Bohemian artists fleeing the Hussite insurrection, such as the Imhoff Altarpiece in Nürnberg (c. 1420) or the Graudenzer Altarpiece in Warsaw (c. 1400). Greater attention might also have been paid to paintings connected with the main hand of the Brunswick model-book. However, in the final section of her essay Schäfer puts to rest all speculation about a hidden portrait in the Ortenberg Adoration (Vetter suggested Emperor Sigismund) by pointing out that the standing king is a popular image of an ideal king, for which the statue of St. Wenceslas in Prague (1373) provided the prototype.

Kühnen contributes to the volume a succinct and exemplary analysis of the processes involved in producing the altarpiece, from the preparation of the wood to the final application of a glaze. Of particular interest is the discovery of a black brush underdrawing and the fact that all major lines were scratched into the chalk ground. Kühnen was also able to identify the paler gold used in the draperies and attributes of the saints as 'Zwischengold' (thin gold rolled onto silver), and to confirm that gold leaf was used for the background and the halos. The figures were drawn in charcoal based black and protected by a glaze before the remaining areas were painted and glazed. She also points out that the reverse sides of the wings were originally just painted black around the stencilled patterns and that the Annunciation figures and red paint are likely to have been added soon after completion of the altarpiece. The altarpiece is in good condition but bears the marks of a nineteenth century restoration, especially in the facial features of the saints.

The volume presents a welcome and often instructive addition to the literature. However, from a monograph one might reasonably expect information about the historical and social setting, possible patrons, workshop organisation and the likely date of the work. The relationship between the altarpiece and other contemporary paintings is also insufficiently considered. Firmer editorial guidance might have solved some of the problems.

Review: Menzel, and Zupancic and Schilp

Brigitte Corley, review ‘Der Bielefelder Marienaltar - Das Retabel in der Neustädter Marienkirche’ ed. by Alfred Menzel, and ‘Der Berswordt-Meister und die Dortmunder Malerei um 1400 - Stadtkultur im Mittelalter’, ed. by Andrea Zupancic and Thomas Schilp, in: Kunstchronik, January 2004, pp. 36-44.

Re-inventing the Berswordt Master

The art of the so-called Berswordt Master has hitherto attracted little international interest, and even in Germany he has not received more than sporadic attention. Recently, the survival for 600 years of one of the painter's two extant retables, the Bielefeld Altarpiece, has stimulated civic pride in Bielefeld and consequently encouraged the publication of two handsome volumes. The first book was commissioned by the presbyters of the Neustädter Marienkirche to celebrate the anniversary and also to mark the recent return to the church of three of the painted scenes from the dispersed wings of their altarpiece. Edited by the parish pastor, the book is aimed mainly at his protestant congregation. The second volume is edited in Dortmund, the location of the Berswordt Altarpiece, and acknowledges a more ambitious agenda, in that it seeks to establish the Berswordt Master as a major painter of outstanding ability and originality.

The Bielefeld Altarpiece was a winged retable, decorated originally with 31 painted narratives on the obverse sides: a central, full-length Sacra Conversazione was surrounded by three rows of scenes narrating events from the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, the Life of the Virgin and the Passion of Christ, culminating in the Last Judgement. The reverse sides of the wings bear only traces of the original paint. A reliable reading (Ledebur 1824) of a now lost (frame?) inscription allows us to date the work to the year 1400. The retable would appear to have been commissioned for the high altar of the then collegiate church by an unknown donor or donors. The collegiate was dissolved in 1810, and the wings of the altarpiece were removed during 'purifying' (p.147) restoration of the church around 1840. The central panel (172.7 x 283.5 cm), showing the Sacra Conversazione and 12 narrative scenes, was eventually incorporated into a neogothic altar screen where it has recently been joined by the newly returned Ascension, Pentecost and Last Judgement scenes, as well as that of the Annunciation (on loan). The wing panels had found their way first into the Krüger collection and later, separated into individual scenes, into disparate private and public collections in Germany and abroad (listed pp.139-140).

The book is efficiently divided into four sections that discuss in turn the history of the collegiate, the iconography of the altarpiece, art-historical aspects of the work and the restoration of the returned panels. In the initial chapter, Heinrich Rüthing guides the reader via the history of the foundation and organisation of the collegiate to evidence that must be considered in connection with the crucial question of patronage for the Bielefeld Altarpiece. His clear exposition is based entirely on the surviving documentary evidence, mainly of a legal nature:

The collegiate was founded in 1293 in the Marienkirche by Count Otto III of Ravensberg and his wife. Rüthing points out that apart from the primary consideration of family burial, commemoration and the arrangements for perpetual supplication, the count may also have considered the political and economic advantages entailed in such a foundation. No documentary evidence survives to enlighten us about the rules and liturgical arrangements of the collegiate. From extant documents it can only be deduced that the 12 canons lived independently and, despite the obligation to perform daily services, were by no means all in attendance. While the canons enjoyed considerable independence, the Ravensberg family retained the right of patronage that passed, together with the title, to the Counts (later Dukes) of Jülich and Berg in 1346. By 1398, the Marienkirche was endowed with at least fifteen altars, with benefices under the patronage of members of the Ravensberg family, certain canons, local nobility and two confraternities; the parish altar 'ante chorum' was endowed by the local council. Another altar, founded according to a letter of 1389 by Margarete von Ravensberg (d. 1394), is not mentioned in later documents.

Rüthing plausibly suggests that the undocumented Bielefeld Altarpiece is likely to have been a corporate foundation by the collegiate chapter, endowed at their own expense and therefore without legal documentation. In this connection, Rüthing points to the attempts by Wilhelm von Berg (Margarete's son, Count of Ravensberg 1403), bishop of Paderborn from 1399, to stabilise the collegiate by reforming its liturgy and economy. The canons had not only neglected their spiritual duties, they had also ceased to use a portion of their stipends to support the fabric of the church and to embellish it.

Of considerable interest is also the documented private legacy from a prominent canon that led to the foundation of an altar in 1400. Hermann Crusing came from a powerful local family. He studied in Prague and made a glittering career at the Papal court. An avid collector of lucrative benefices himself, he travelled widely as papal auditor. He died soon after his return to Bielefeld in 1397. In his testament he left provision for an altar dedicated to the Virgin, St. Jerome, the Holy Cross and St. Ursula. This altar is recorded in 1482 as situated next to the parish altar 'ante chorum'. As usual, the question of altar or altarpiece remains ambiguous. However, Rüthing points to the possibility that an altarpiece could have been moved to the high altar later when the choir screen was removed. In that case, saints Jerome and Ursula would have adorned the reverse sides of the wings of the altarpiece.

Later in the book (p.37), Götz J. Pfeiffer suggests another potential donor, Duke Wilhelm I of Berg. The Duke is mainly recorded for his zealous interest in Berg family foundations in Düsseldorf and Altenberg; Ravensberg was left in turn to his sons Adolf and Wilhelm. However, in a poem of 1408 the Bielefeld scholar and canon Gobelinus Person praised Wilhelm I for enriching the church with ornaments. Moreover, Pfeiffer discovered that the pattern for the Virgin Annunciate in the Berswordt Altarpiece is also used in a window of Altenberg Cathedral that includes the donor figure of Duke Wilhelm I.

Less scholarly than Rüthing's contribution is, of necessity, Alfred Menzel's empirical exegesis, as he 'evaluates with critical distance' and 'from the protestant viewpoint' 'the present day function of the altarpiece' for his congregation (p.21). His perceptive observations are interspersed with expositions on the history of the veneration of the Virgin Mary and on her role as 'the instrument through which Christ was able to effect the redemption' from Original Sin. Menzel has clearly studied the altarpiece intensely and with considerable theological knowledge, but perhaps he makes too little allowance for painterly tradition of representation and design. An art historian might assume, for instance, that there are five angels’ heads above the throne in the Sacra Conversazione because of the need to distribute them evenly in the available space; Menzel interprets their meaning as three for the Trinity plus two to describe the 'nature of Christ as God and Man' (p.21). Equally difficult to follow is the notion that in the Expulsion from Paradise the position of the porch and the sword are intended to symbolise the Cross or that diagonal lines for ceiling tiles are capable of indicating the cross of St. Andrew (p.30). Nor would an art historian agree that Conrad von Soest painted the Petri altarpiece in Hamburg (p.25).

More contentious is the art-historical contribution. Pfeiffer, who is at present writing a dissertation on the painter under Professor Krohm in Berlin, will no doubt publish the evidence for his various assertions in his thesis. However, his present audience would have been better served with a more generous approach. It is hardly satisfactory to be informed of the 'high painterly quality' (p.34) of the altarpiece without any reasoning, particularly in view of the fact that individual panels vary considerably in style and quality. A comment on the likely workshop organisation and division of hands is surely indispensable. Looking at the iconography, Pfeiffer lauds the 'theological understanding' of the artist, without discussing the role of learned advisers in deciding the content of medieval altarpieces. Contemporary contracts show clearly that the painters had little say in the choice of subject matter. Moreover, the 'often unusual iconography' of the panels at Bielefeld frequently depends on patterns from other workshops. Pfeiffer's independent artist 'schooled in French works of art' (p.34) actually based his Expulsion from Paradise, for instance, on Master Bertram's Petri design. It is equally well known that the central Sacra Conversazione depends on a widely diffused pattern that was also used, for instance, for the Carrand Diptych in Florence and a small panel in Philadelphia.

Pfeiffer's catalogue of individual panels is beautifully illustrated in colour. The entries remain largely descriptive, citing some textural sources for the narratives but no pictorial sources for their design. Even then, some of the interpretations appear a little fanciful, such as his reiteration that crossed fingers in the stylised hands symbolise Christ's Cross. Thus, in the initial Paradise scene, where God joins the hands of Adam and Eve in marriage, we are to understand that the inevitably crossed thumbs of the couple signify the Cross. Moreover, the crossed thumbs are apparently shown in front of Adam's right rib to remind us of the 'laceration of Christ's left side'. Among the other questionable notions is the assertion that a 'cherub' expels the couple from Paradise. Nor is it easy to accept his interpretation of the central panel as a holy conversation in anticipation of the coming of God, recommended to believers in letters by Peter and Paul, a 'sacra conversatio'. The painted scene shows a selection of saints in the company of the Virgin and her Child.

In the last section of this book Iris Herpers presents a clear, well organised and illustrated account of the prudent restoration of the newly acquired panels. The production process that became apparent to the restorers does not differ significantly from that of contemporary workshops in the region. The punchwork is modest and the palette quite restricted, with azurite used for the blue hues. A dendrochronological examination of the oak wood suggests a date after 1391 for the altarpiece that fits well with the lost inscription date of 1400.

The second volume under discussion contains eleven essays centred on the eponymous altarpiece by the Berswordt Master in the Marienkirche in Dortmund. The triptych shows a Crucifixion (95 x 147 cm) flanked by the Carrying of the Cross and the Deposition, and an Annunciation spanning the reverse sides of the wings. The original frames bear no inscription or date, but display the coat-of-arms of a Dortmund patrician family, the Berswordt.

In the introduction to the Dortmund book, the reader is promised that new questions will be asked and answered about the painter, his works and his environment (p.10). However, in his initial contribution Thomas Schilp strays far from this intent. Instead of guiding the reader through the specific historic and social evidence relating to the city of Dortmund (p.17), he embarks on an idiosyncratic quest to establish medieval cities in general as 'Sakralgemeinschaften' in which individuals and groups function as 'communities of the living and the dead'. He describes the inhabitants of these cities as social and spiritual equals united in their prime purpose to achieve redemption. His repetitive discourse ponders, amongst others, the Black Death, Purgatory, the meaning of the word 'Öffentlichkeit' (the public), a Münster testament of 1489, guild regulations of weavers of 1525, a Regensburg Altarpiece of 1488, the choir of the Reinoldikirche, a town procession of 1610 (described twice, pp. 47 and 59), and Jan van Eyck's Leal Souvenir. This apparently random selection of 'evidence' is not examined for relevance to time and place. Does it really make sense to discuss endowments by the example of Chartres, when documents relating to nine altars extant by 1432 in the Marienkirche itself were available to the town archivist Schilp?

More locally focused research might have cautioned the author to consider such facts as the guild revolt of 1400, the city council dominated by patricians, convents reserved for patrician ladies, and the intermarriage among patrician families, before asserting the spiritual and social equality of the citizens of Dortmund. However, even when the author does refer to a local document his interpretation seems difficult to accept. Thus, he deduces from the only known instance of patrician witnesses to a medieval painter's marriage, that of Conrad von Soest in 1394, that city 'painters, goldsmiths, woodcarvers and stonemasons were considered as equals by the patricians' (p.66). Turning to confraternities, to him merely institutions created to ensure commemoration and redemption, he notes that 'only' 12 male members of the Berswordt family are recorded in the fragmented membership lists of the time that survive from two of the seven known confraternities of Dortmund. Without discussing how many additional males were available or why they could not have joined one of the other five groups, he infers that the 'city elite' did not require commemoration through these 'communities of the living and the dead' (p.45). And from the fact that the guild regulations of the weavers are written by hand he gathers that the burghers and craftsmen of the city were generally able to write and read (p.65).

From all this he deduces that donors intended to ensure commemoration and perpetual supplication for the redemption of their sins but were also aware of the enhanced social standing and significance that a public donation, such as an altarpiece, could engender. All this is hardly new, see for instance Rüthing (above).

Andrea Zupancic's opens her section with a lucid description of the narrative content of the altarpiece, its pictorial organisation and sacramental function. However, she presents her material here, and throughout her contribution, without acknowledging the authors of her eclectic report. It is only when she deviates from the accepted canon that difficulties arise. Thus she interprets St John's spidery hand that supports the Virgin in the Crucifixion scene not as awkward craftsmanship, but as a special design intended to draw our attention to the white cloak of the Virgin. The use of white, the colour of innocence, persuades Zupancic that John is shown as 'presenting' the Virgin as one of the Righteous (Rev. 7.9-17). Moreover, white veils and a white sleeve lining are said to indicate white gowns (although a grey and a green gown are clearly visible), thus including all women on the 'heaven side' among the Righteous. On the 'earth side' the white belt of Pilate and the white headband of the centurion apparently indicate their 'righteous judgements'(!). Zupancic then speculates that such headbands may indicate a confraternity (this via the pun of Binde = Bund = Bruderschaft). Equally worrying is her assertion that the Berswordt Master introduced brocade garments into 'western German' painting. Such selective evidence ignores the dominant connection between Dortmund and 'eastern' Germany and Bohemia via the Hanseatic trade routes, as well as the possible content of the many lost altarpieces. Moreover, the author later acknowledges that the painter had no followers.

Her discussion of the present condition of the much restored altarpiece seems perfunctory. Lost glazes and a badly damaged gold ground are recognised, but she ignores restoration reports. It is surely significant, for instance, that Hieronymi (1927) had to restore the outlines of figures and the defaced features of Longinus and his neighbours.

However, the documentary evidence relating to endowments of the Crucifixion altar in the Marienkirche is clearly presented and marred only by the fanciful conclusion that the donors of the two benefices attached to the altar were embroiled in a class struggle. In 1385 Heinrich Lemberg made provision for a perpetual mass at the altar. In 1397 Lambert Berswordt initiated an endowment for the altar. However, Lambert's untimely death prevented further action until 'his not fully completed intentions' (suum propositum ad effectum plenarium non perduxit) were finally 'followed through' by his nephews in 1431; the right of patronage of the altar was transferred to the Berswordt family at this date. According to a document of 1490 the Berswordt had agreed that a second benefice, separately funded, could continue. In 1437 we hear of a 'newly erected and endowed' altar. Sadly, the appended documents are not presented in transcription or complete translation.

These frequently cited documents should lead to a discussion of the possible date of the altarpiece, but Zupancic keeps the reader in suspense by first digressing with what amounts to a repetition of Schilp's essay, admittedly more succinct and tenable.

Eventually Zupancic asserts that the disputed date of the altarpiece can now be defined with precision as 'around 1386'; for this she cites four flawed reasons:

  1. Dress: she assigns the centurion's dagged houppelande to before 1385, claiming in sole evidence an 'accord' at a conference (Bielefeld 2000). Few would agree that complex dagging of appliquéd gold braid would have occurred around 1386, even at the French court, and the idea was much disputed at the said conference. Dagging was certainly still applied around 1430.
  2. Technique: Despite admitting that the 'solid surface' on the festive side of the altarpiece did not allow a glimpse at preparatory layers below the paintings, she 'gained the impression' that 'novel' method of first stretching canvas over the wood was used only for the frames. She therefore contends, without demonstrating that all painters used a canvas base after 1400, that the Berswordt Altarpiece must predate the Niederwildungen Altarpiece by Conrad von Soest (1403) which is worked on a canvas ground.
  3. Documents: She admits that the documents allow no date before 1431 for Berswordt patronage and concludes that the frames which bear the Berswordt coat-of-arms and are painted on canvas, 'must have been repainted in 1431' to 'impose' Berswordt patronage on an existing altarpiece. She speculates that the altarpiece was produced in connection with the endowment by Heinrich Lemberg in 1385, although the relevant document does not leave room for such an interpretation.
  4. The dendrochronological examination of the altarpiece by Peter Klein resulted in a proposed felling date of 1376 for the wood. Allowing for the usual storage time of around 10 years, Zupancic decides that the early date for the painting is 'proven'. Moreover, the reader is informed (note 145) that, at a 'conference' in Dortmund, Corley's acceptance of the date 1431 was 'thrown out'. Yet at this event, a lecture day for the local 'Conrad von Soest Society', Zupancic was repeatedly warned that the dating of the wood can only imply a date post quem for the altarpiece. Wood can be stored for more than ten years. Alternatively, the documentary evidence allows one to consider whether Lambert Berswordt might have purchased the wood for the altarpiece in 1397, initiating the 'incomplete intention' to have an altarpiece painted as part of his endowment for the altar, which was finally 'brought forward' by his nephews in 1431.

Unfortunately, not one of Zupancic's four reasons provides 'the final confirmation of the early date' that she claims proven (p.223). Nonetheless, she feels able to conclude that the Berswordt Master was not an 'imitator' of Conrad von Soest, but the 'giver'. With her worrying lack of precision she blames Corley, incorrectly, for the notion of 'imitator' and even 'pupil' (p.240). She does not define her concept of 'giver'.

Looking at brocade patterns, Annemarie Stauffer supports the early date for the altarpiece. To this purpose she illustrates two patterns of around 1360. Had they been juxtaposed with clear photographs of the painted brocade patterns, it would have become evident that the comparisons are not compelling. In any case, as such patterns 'still survive today' (p.136) in 'Lübeck, Danzig and Stralsund', Stauffer should only cite them as another date post quem for the painting.

At this stage, the book reverts to the historical setting with scholarly essays by Martina Klug and Monika Fehse which should have preceded the technical parts. Next follows a section on the Bielefeld Altarpiece and the three lost panels from Osnabrück in which Zupancic largely repeats the contribution made by Pfeiffer in the first volume. Without any comparative analysis of the two altarpieces, or discussion of the technical inadequacies notable, for instance, in the Bielefeld Deposition and resolved in the Dortmund scene, the author concludes that the Bielefeld Altarpiece was painted 15 years after that at Dortmund.

Zupancic then insists that the Berswordt Master, a medieval painter, was able to remain independent from specific indigenous or foreign influences. Equally surprising is her opinion that Master Bertram (first recorded town commissions 1367) 'probably' saw the two altarpieces from the workshop of the Netze Master (both dated by her to c. 1370!) on his travels as a journeyman (p.228), and that his work is alien to that of the Berswordt Master. Yet, illustrated elsewhere in the book are Master Bertram's Presentation of around 1410 and his Expulsion of 1379, both closely related to the Bielefeld versions in content and in style. Besides, similarities between the Bohemian-influenced painting style of Master Bertram and that of the Berswordt Master have long been noticed. Looking at the figure canon, Zupancic judges the 'step' from the Netze Altarpiece and the Wiesenkirche predella of 1376 to the 'modern' Berswordt Altarpiece 'immense' (p.231), but she does not draw the obvious conclusion. Having to acknowledge that the Bielefeld Sacra Conversazione depends on a Franco-Flemish design with wide diffusion she contends that it is original in the 'emotion expressed' and therefore superior to the cited works at Florence and Philadelphia. In evidence, she censures the lack of 'sensitivity' in the Philadelphia Margaret who does not turn her head away from the Child in the manner of the Bielefeld version of this figure, and therefore 'presents' 'undisguised' her small cross, the 'symbol of his sacrificial death'. Also, noting that the tiny panel in Philadelphia omits the scroll inscribed with Christ's name, Zupancic laments with derision that 'nothing remains of the Messian self-confession Ego sum Christus Jhesus' (p.238). A less prejudiced observer might have noted that the sitting saints at Bielefeld are copied from the original pattern as isolated figures, whereas the equivalent figures at Florence and Philadelphia are arranged around the listening Virgin in animate conversation with each other and with the Child.

In her ultimate effort to establish the significance of the Berswordt Master, Zupancic sets out to claim that the better known painter Conrad von Soest was indebted to him. Although she cannot quite decide 'whether Conrad was a student of the Berswordt Master' (p.248), she lists a few trivial correspondences, such as an ordinary shoe buckle or the depiction of a dagged hem, and even likens the image of a soldier with an open visor to that of a bystander who shades his eyes with his hand. She lauds the Berswordt Master's restrained blue hues without acknowledging that the liberal use of costly ultramarine in Conrad's altarpieces depended as much on the patron's choice as did the 'soft' blue used by the Berswordt Master, the cheaper azurite. As a precedent for the application of red bole under gold leaf she quotes the pinkish ground in the Hildesheim ceiling. For her purpose it is also necessary to deny that Conrad could have seen the work of the Parement Master in Paris. So she cites König's 'decisive' date of '1404' for the Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame ( ignoring authors who have recognised that the date was added to the manuscript. Moreover, the eponymous Parement de Narbonne can be dated with fair precision to 1375. Later, echoing (unacknowledged) several sections of a recent volume that discusses the evidence, she concludes that the French court attracted numerous foreign painters during the last quarter of the fourteenth century and that significant trade connections would have eased the journey to Paris for a Dortmund painter. Then she demands that someone should 'finally ask' about the local influence on Conrad von Soest (for the answer see Corley, 1996, pp.118-129).

In the next essay, Ingo Sandner examines the underdrawing of the obverse scenes of the Berswordt Altarpiece and exposes an interesting variation: The master used a hard instrument with some brushed correcting lines. A schematic, possibly single brush line, marks some of the drapery folds. However, Sandner notes that the contour lines in the wing panels are freely rendered, with some parallel lines but few pentimenti, whereas the central panel shows a more precise contour-only drawing, with small corrections in Christ's legs and feet only and no indication for drapery folds. Sandner plausibly deduces that the preliminary workshop drawing for the central panel must have been more detailed than that for the wings. From the Bielefeld Altarpiece, Sandner could only investigate the three returned panels; their underdrawing showed just fragmented contour lines. One hopes that Sandner will continue this work and publish all his excellent infrared reflectographies. A complete examination of the Bielefeld Altarpiece would certainly provide useful evidence about the use of imported patterns and superimposed figures by the workshop (for instance in the Resurrection) and, by comparing similar designs in the two altarpieces, advances in draughtsmanship. Sandner extols Conrad von Soest's rather different and creative underdrawing style with hatching lines searching for forms, but proposes that Conrad may be indebted to the Berswordt Master for the 'rare' tool used in the drawing. However, although few panels have been examined (see Corley, 1996, pp. 57-91) the practice was hardly unusual.

In her final sections in which she even picks up the long discredited notion of a 'Malerschule', Zupancic comes to believe that Berswordt Master was Conrad's 'master' (p.277). By an astonishing and again eclectic route that results in contradictions and inaccuracies she manages both to credit Conrad von Soest with his considerable influence on art along the Hanseatic trade route and then to deny it. This allows her to suggest that even the 'obvious' similarities between Conrad's work and that of the Veronica Master could ultimately depend on lost works by the Berswordt Master (p. 284). According to Zupancic it is feasible that the panel showings St Paul and Reinold in Munich, and other 'early' works formerly attributed to Conrad von Soest, were designed or even painted by the Berswordt Master. To crown it all, we are informed on the last page that Conrad and the Berswordt Master could even have been related. Using such means, Zupancic really believes that she has established that the Berswordt Master was a truly 'outstanding artist' of his time!

Where it not for the fact that the incredibly assertive tone of the two main authors, and the attractive publication with numerous illustrations, might mislead inexperienced students into believing that this is an authoritative text, the Dortmund volume would not have merited a review. The editors' contributions are driven by a pre-conceived idea which prevented detached research. In consequence, this huge volume lacks the essential elements for a scholarly evaluation of the painter, namely an examination of the production methods of both altarpieces (including the underdrawing of crucial paintings at Bielefeld), a discussion of the likely workshop organisation and the division of hands, a complete restoration report, and an investigation of palette, brushwork and style, coupled with an assessment of differences between the two altarpieces. Moreover, instead of looking at widely diffused single motifs, it would be necessary to compare the technique, style and design with work from contemporary workshops at home and abroad. While this would hardly establish the Berswordt Master as a 'painter of international rank', nor of 'great originality', it could be demonstrated that this able painter does indeed deserve our attention.

Review: Budde and Krischel

Brigitte Corley, review of exh. cats. ‘Genie ohne Namen - Der Meister des Bartholomäus-Altars (Cologne 2001)’ and ‘Das Stundenbuch der Sophia van Bylant’, both edited by Rainer Budde and Roland Krischel, in : Kunstchronik, February 2002, pp.49-59.

Misplaced 'Genius'

Cologne celebrated the opening of the new building for the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum with an exhibition dedicated to one of the most fascinating painters of late medieval Europe, the anonymous Master of the St. Bartholomew Altarpiece (pl.1). Unlike the Jubilee exhibition of 1961, which presented the same painter in conjunction with the Master of the Aachen Altarpiece, this show promised to concentrate on a single master's oeuvre, production methods and provenance. In consequence, the extraordinarily weighty catalogue (kg 2.78) of the exhibition was not designed to accompany the visitor, but conceived as a comprehensive reference book, a 'Handbuch zum Bartholomäusmeister' (Budde and Krischel, pp.10-11).

The exhibition presented itself as a beguiling show of late medieval artefacts, a glittering, skilfully lit display of 142 objects, including small paintings, prints, manuscripts, sculptures, bookbindingsdocuments, seals, jewels, vestments, and even a suit of Augsburg armour. Among this visual richess of mainly Netherlandish provenance could also be found 18 paintings attributed to the Bartholomew Master or his workshop and a techniques display. However, of the 9 exhibited paintings that are catalogued as from the master's own hand, only 6 were more than fragments and of undisputed attribution, 4 from the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum (cats 1, 60, 62, 82) and two lent by Nurenberg (cat.47) and Mainz (cat.149) respectively. In view of the fact that no further significant loans could be obtained for the exhibition, not even a wing from the eponymous altarpiece in Munich from which all other paintings are attributed to the artist, it might have been wiser - and more accurate - to characterise the exhibition as a 'work in context' display centred around paintings by the Bartholomew Master from the museum collection. As such, the exhibition could have been designed to engage more than the eye.

To control this large show and achieve the desired focus on the Bartholomew Master, the curator could have used explanatory boards in each room. As it was, the uninitiated visitor was obliged to peruse 142 small labels to identify the 18 attributed works. No guidance was available about the given name and presumed career of the artist. Nor was it always obvious why all the 124 context exhibits were deemed relevant, although many were certainly important and of great scholarly interest. A large wall-board in each room, featuring the Bartholomew Master's work there and pointing to evidence sought from adjacent exhibits, would have allowed the visitors to follow the discussion about the presumed Utrecht provenance of the painter or the suggested sources of his art. Even the problems posed by a magnificent array of manuscripts with diverse styles of illumination yet similar border decorations could have been better appreciated by the visitors, had a display board informed them about the division of labour in manuscript production. Much interest might also have been aroused had the reasons for demotions to the workshop, or for the curator's expulsion of the Portrait of a Man (cat.51; pl.2) from the master's oeuvre, been rehearsed with a small panel display. By means of such information, the exhibition could have stimulated the mind as well as the eye.

However, a dedicated perusal of the large, well illustrated catalogue will reward amateur and scholar alike with some detailed and informed discussion, even though the 24 essays concentrate largely on works from the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. This befits the actual scope of the exhibition, but hardly provides a reference book on the master. For such a publication one would expect at least a technical, stylistic and iconographic analysis of all his autograph works, incorporating research available from other institutions and from salient publications. Moreover, the brief catalogue entries, with photographs for the 30 exhibited and unexhibited works firmly attributed in this volume to the Bartholomew Master or his workshop, are dispersed among the 154 entries in apparently random order, thus rendering this part of the book also of limited use to the scholar.

The Bartholomew Master has hitherto been considered as an artist with a possible provenance from Utrecht, but likely to have served his apprenticeship in Cologne where he was thought to have presided over a workshop from c. 1480 to c. 1510. Instead, the catalogue jacket proclaims the painter as 'one of the last great representatives of that Netherlandish painting style which one connects with the names of Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden' and claims that circumstantial evidence suggests that his workshop was situated in or around Utrecht, - a view supported in the curator's survey essay (p.22). It was also endorsed by the exhibition itself, which juxtaposed mainly Netherlandish artefacts with the Bartholomew master's paintings, eschewing to show any painting from Cologne to test the novel proposition. It is therefore the more surprising that the background essays commissioned for the catalogue exclusively feature late medieval Cologne, its political, ecclesiastical and social conditions, its guild regulations, and its musical life. If the Bartholomew Master's workshop was deemed to be situated in or near Utrecht, apparently obliging even his most prominent Cologne patron, Peter Rinck, to send his panels there for painting (Krischel, p.22), these catalogue essays on contemporary Cologne must be considered irrelevant. Instead, one might reasonably expect to find in this volume a detailed discussions concerning the conditions and habits prevalent in Utrecht at the time, but not a single essay is dedicated to that city.

Nor do the essayists agree with the notion of a Netherlandish workshop, even though an Utrecht provenance has long been suggested for the Bartholomew Master in view of his contribution to the Book of Hours of Sophia van Bylant of 1475 (cat.1), and his depiction of a Netherlandish manuscript in a much later work (cat.149). The Book of Hours is now the subject of a companion volume to the catalogue in which the researchers confirm the artist's presence in Utrecht around 1475. Nonetheless, there is considerable evidence to suggest that he neither trained in that region nor maintained a workshop there after 1480. Kemperdick and Weniger plausibly propose that the undated Utrecht paintings that are said to have influenced the artist are more likely to have been painted by his followers (p.30) and they conclude their perceptive investigation of the early work and style of the artist with the firm assertion that the painter 'is closely connected to the Cologne tradition and can be assumed to have been trained in the cathedral city' (p.40). Nürnberger, investigating the production methods and underdrawing technique of the painter, deduces that his 'meticulous working method undoubtedly has its precursors in Cologne, and is most closely related to that of Stefan Lochner'; she proceeds to suggest two particular workshops that could have provided the Bartholomew Master's training in Cologne (pp. 158-159). Schaefer, Frohnert, Klinkhammer and Steinbüchel conclude their important report on a technical examination of the master's paintings in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum and other Cologne works by declaring the Bartholomew Master an 'exceptionally gifted and accomplished Cologne painter' (p.134).

Nor is this the only discrepancy. In the manuscript volume we are correctly reminded that the date of 1475, inscribed in the Flagellation page, has been 'confirmed by scientific means' (Stundenbuch, Budde and Krischel, p.7), but in his summary of the catalogue the same author considers dating the manuscript to 'the beginning or middle of the 1480s' (Krischel, p.18). He suggests the 'Marian Altarpiece' (cats 29, 33, 39 and 40) as the earliest surviving work, 'possibly produced when still a journeyman' (p.9), despite the fact that Allen and Szafran were able to demonstrate that the panels differ in size, underdrawing style and surface appearance, and are unlikely to have come from one altarpiece (p.142). Nürnberger enlarges on this, stating that the underdrawing style of the Los Angeles paintings (cat.33) points to a different 'hand or even workshop' (p.154). Even then, the Paris Nativity (cat.29: pl.3) and Munich Adoration (cat.39; pl.4) show such differences in the skill of integrating the figures, and in depicting texture and light, that only the Munich panel can be considered a completely autograph work.

Equally confusing is the statement that the Adoration page of the manuscript is 'demonstrably by another hand' (Krischel, p.18). It has long been recognised that the design depends, possibly at the request of the patron, on a Schöngauer print (cat.17) which was copied with subtle changes in the number of figures, figure canon, facial expressions and background design. Such prints frequently provided patterns for miniaturists and among the numerous prints exhibited were a number identified by Mrass as further sources for the same manuscript (Stundenbuch, pp.187-201). Furthermore, close examination had revealed that the Adoration 'differs only by the use of a different punch' [-size] from other miniatures by the Bartholomew Master, 'apart from that, the miniature shows no peculiarities in materials or painting technique' (Oltrogge, Hahn and Fuchs, Stundenbuch, p.10).

The Bartholomew Master's paintings exhibit an ever increasing confidence and precision in his detailed, creative underdrawing and versatile painting style. This enabled Nürnberger to establish a plausible sequence for his oeuvre, placing for instance the Baptism (cat.97) among the earliest surviving works ('shortly after 1485'), the St Thomas Altarpiece (cat.82) among paintings of the early 1490s and the Holy Cross Altarpiece (cat.62) 'around 1500' (Nürnberger 1995 and pp.151-159). This thesis is supported by obvious improvements in design that finally led to a convincing spatial solution in the St. Bartholomew Altarpiece (cat.140). Krischel, however, allows no development in the master's technique and expertise and, contrary to accepted methodology, interprets small corrections in the freehand drawing, or repeated use of patterns, as evidence of the involvement of a workshop hand. This induces him to date the four large altarpieces to within one decade, thus creating 'workshop pressure' that supposedly delayed the completion of the St. Thomas Altarpiece until c.1495-1500, after finishing the Holy Cross Altarpiece and before the 'hurried' underdrawing for the Baptism was undertaken, 'possibly' with the 'help of a journeyman' (pp.20-21). It is difficult to envisage the circumstances that could have induced the meticulous master to 'delay' and 'hastily complete' the large and costly altarpiece destined for the city's most prestigious institution. Nor can one ignore the improved design in the Holy Cross Altarpiece, effected in the wings, for instance, by introducing a more plausible spatial setting for the polychrome figures. On the reverse of the wings, in the St Thomas Altarpiece, a cramped group of grisaille figures (pl.5) imitate sculpture in the traditional Netherlandish manner, whereas in the Holy Cross Altarpiece innovative and complex creations inspired by carved narratives are crafted convincingly (pl.6) and with 'more finely nuanced grisaille' (p. 130). Moreover, the detailed underdrawing of the Baptism (pl.7) shows all the characteristics of the master's own hand (p. 152 and passim), as does - despite the slightly rubbed condition of the painting - the meticulous brushwork. The unusual colour indications in the underdrawing of the large Baptism panel are more likely to have been inserted for the review of the patron than as instructions to a journeyman, particularly as none of the obvious workshop paintings (such as cats 77 and 123) carry any colour indications. Besides, fashions depicted in this painting were replaced around 1490 by those shown in the St. Thomas Altarpiece (Urban, p.207).

The dates newly proposed in the catalogue are not included in the table (pp.186-191) that lists dates suggested for the Bartholomew Master's works by earlier authors. The table helpfully includes the results obtained from dendrochronological examination (Klein, pp. 192-194), but displays a mix of numbers and quotes which is neither helpful nor always accurate.

The propensity to consider works with corrections in the underdrawing as executed either by the workshop or with notable workshop participation has affected a number of works (cats 39, 59, 82, 97, 103, 104, 113, 140). It would have been very helpful to see the visual evidence and reasoning on which these judgements were based. In the case of the Virgin with Saints Adrian and Augustine (cat.104; pl.8), for instance, Nürnberger (pp.152-153) plausibly argues that the underdrawing is likely to be a rapid freehand notation with instant corrections that follows a detailed design drawing. She notes that the underdrawing is similar to that of the Mystic Marriage of St Agnes (cat.47; pl.9), as is the surface appearance. Unaccountably, in the catalogue the Virgin with Saints is attributed to the workshop and linked to an Utrecht painter of different style, tonality and technique (cat.50); the Mystic Marriage is considered an autograph work. In this context, a discussion of the envisaged workshop organisation, together with a translation of the relevant guild regulations of 1449, might usefully have replaced the repetition of the general survey of all surviving guild regulations (Schaefer, pp.108-117), which is available elsewhere.

In the case of the Portrait of a Man (cat.51), an examination of the underdrawing of the panel (Sander, p.172) and observations on the modelling of the hand (Schaefer, Frohnert, Klinkhammer and Steinbüchel, p.122) caused the authors plausible concern about the status of the painting. However, before expulsion of the portrait from the master's oeuvre and unreliable attribution to the painter of cat.50 (Krischel, p.354), contrary indications should also have been considered. Among these are the similarities to the underdrawing style of the Paris Adoration and the Bylant Book of Hours (Nürnberger, p.153), and the fact that paint loss in the hand has revealed a shading technique that is not only used by the Utrecht painter (cat.50) but can be observed in a number of works by the Bartholomew Master - as in the hands of Alexis and the Virgin in the Holy Cross Altarpiece. Here and elsewhere the effects of restorations should also have been brought into consideration. Unfortunately, the announced symposium that might have shed light on some of these problems was cancelled.

Scholars will find the manuscript volume exemplary both in academic scope and in presentation. However, the huge main catalogue fails to fulfil its stated purpose and those who attempt to use it as a reference volume do so at their peril. In trying to get some basic information from the curator's catalogue entries and summary essay, they may remain unaware that the theses presented there are frequently speculative and are not supported by the research findings in the same volume. Through careful examination of the evidence these scholars confirm the Bartholomew Master as a painter who may have originally come from Utrecht but trained in Cologne. He had his own workshop in Cologne from around 1480. He is shown as influenced both by indigenous and Netherlandish models, which he adapted creatively for his idiosyncratic designs, executed in meticulous, yet inventive, technique and in exquisite colours. He showed a perceptive understanding of the human condition that placed his art at the threshold of the Renaissance. But the notion that he cynically 'played with what he did not believe any longer' (Krischel, p.17) in works for a deeply religious patron, and in a town that remained firmly catholic and proscribed any lack of propriety in religious representation (Schmid, p.64, note 70), must rest with the many other unsubstantiated assertions introduced in this volume.