National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Baptism of Christ Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altar (artist)
German, active c. 1475/1510
The Baptism of Christ, c. 1485/1500
oil on panel
painted surface: 104.3 x 169.7 cm (41 1/16 x 66 13/16 in.) support: 105.7 x 170.4 cm (41 5/8 x 67 1/16 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1961.9.78
On View
From the Tour: 15th and Early 16th-Century Germany
Object 5 of 8

Jesus and John the Baptist are surrounded by a crowded arc of seven male and seven female saints. The choice of the saints is unusual and may have been specifically requested when the panel was commissioned. Its large size and horizontal shape suggest it was originally part of an altarpiece.

The Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altar is sometimes referred to as the last Gothic painter of Cologne because he combined the naturalism of artists in the Netherlands with the abstract, otherworldly qualities of earlier German painting. Yet these figures have robust presence and, like his more "modern" contemporaries in the Netherlands, he re-created surface textures with meticulous realism. Notice, for example, how different are the murky water surrounding Christ's legs, the angel's richly embroidered vestments, and the hard gleam of Saint George's armor. At the same time, he retained the flat, two-dimensional space and gold background seen in paintings made a hundred years earlier. Here much of the original gilt is lost and has been retouched with yellow paint, but the vaporous effect of these swirling clouds remains much the same, removing this scene from the ordinary world to place it and the viewer in another realm. German mysticism may have conditioned artists and their clients to favor "old-fashioned" gold because its aura evoked not the physical world but a spiritual presence instead.

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