National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Ascension Johann Koerbecke (artist)
German, c. 1420 - 1491
The Ascension, 1456/1457
tempera on panel
overall: 92.7 x 64.8 cm (36 1/2 x 25 1/2 in.) framed: 117.1 x 85.1 cm (46 1/8 x 33 1/2 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1959.9.5
On View
From the Tour: 15th and Early 16th-Century Germany
Object 4 of 8

After his sixth and final appearance on earth, the resurrected Christ ascended to heaven, leaving behind his mother, his fervent but shaken apostles, and the indelible print of his feet on the Mount of Olives. In this painting he is flanked in heaven by John the Baptist and several Old Testament figures, probably those he rescued from limbo. We can identify, for example, Aaron with the flowering branch, Moses with the Tablets of the Law, and King David with his harp.

This panel decorated the altar of an abbey church near Münster, where Koerbecke had a large studio. It and seven other scenes from the life of the Virgin formed the inner doors of an altarpiece more than twenty feet high. It must have been a dazzling sight when the doors were opened on Sundays and feast days to reveal a gilded and painted statue of the Virgin and Child in the center and reliquaries for Saint Ursula and twenty-four of her virgin companions, the latter probably in the form of heads lined up in rows.

In Germany the International Style had been gradually transformed by the middle of the 1400s, influenced by naturalism from the Low Countries. Though Koerbecke continued to place his figures against a gilded background, they have greater solidity and individuality than those in the earlier works in this gallery. They are marked by vigorous movements and vivid expressions. The wide spread of angular folds in the Virgin's robe seems particularly to suggest the style of Robert Campin and his followers.

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