Overview

Saint Clare, a wealthy woman from the central Italian town of Assisi, gave up all her possessions to pursue the goals of poverty and service preached by Saint Francis. She founded an order of nuns known as the Poor Clares, which was recognized by the Pope in 1253. This painting depicts the vision of the death of Saint Clare as experienced by one of her followers, Sister Benvenuta of Diambra.

In the vision of Saint Benvenuta, the Virgin Mary and a procession of virgin martyrs appeared to Saint Clare on her deathbed. Here Mary, dressed in a rich brocade robe, supports Saint Clare's head, while the other elegantly robed and crowned saints follow behind, identified by the tiny attributes they hold.

The work of the Master of Heiligenkreuz, who was probably active in Lower Austria, illustrates the cosmopolitan aspect of the International Style, which flourished around 1400. While his exaggerated figures with their bulbous foreheads and clinging drapery are characteristically Austrian, the anonymous painter must also have been aware of the most advanced art produced at the courts of Paris and Prague. Thus the surface of the panel is worked in a variety of different techniques to fashion a particularly splendid object.

Inscription

on left-hand page of book held by nun at lower right: Dii labia

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Possibly the Convent of the Poor Clares, Eger (Cheb), Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia), or Eger (Erlau), Hungary.[1] (Karl Schäfer, Munich); (Walter Schnackenberg, Munich), 1921/1922-1951;[2] in 1943 a one-third share was acquired from Schnackenberg by Carl Langbehn, Munich, and passed by inheritance to his mother, Marta Langbehn.[3] owned jointly by (Seiler & Co., Walter Schnackenberg, and Alfred Müller, Munich);[4] sold 1951 to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York, with Pinakos, Inc. [Rudolf Heinemann]);[5] purchased 1951 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 by exchange to NGA.

Exhibition History

1926
Lent by Walter Schnackenberg to the Alte Pinakothek, Munich, in 1926.
2006
Sigismundus rex et imperator: art et culture au temps de Sigismond de Luxembourg, 1387-1437, Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest; Musée national d'histoire et d'art, Luxembourg, 2006, no. 7.40, repro.

Bibliography

1907
Vollmer, Hans, ed. "Meister von Heiligenkreuz." In Thieme-Becker. 37 vols. Leipzig, 1907-1950: 37(1950):144-145.
1924
Buchner, Ernst. "Eine Gruppe deutscher Tafelbilder vom Anfang des XV. Jahrhunderts." In Buchner Ernst and Karl Feuchtmayer, eds. Oberdeutsche Kunst der Spätgotik und Reform. (Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Kunst. 2 vols.) Augsburg, 1924: 1:1-13, fig. 2.
1926
Baldass, Ludwig. Review of Oberdeutsche Kunst der Spätgotik und Reformationszeit by Ernst Buchner and Karl Feuchtmayr, eds. In Belvedere 9/10 (1926): 133-136.
1926
Suida, Wilhelm. Österreichs Malerei in der Zeit Erzherzog Ernst des Eisernen und König Albrecht II. Vienna, 1926: 25.
1929
Baldass, Ludwig. "Die Wiener Tafelmalerei von 1410-1460. (Neuerwerbungen des Wiener Kunsthistorischen Museums)." Der Cicerone 21 (1929): 65-67.
1934
Stange, Alfred. Deutsche Malerei der Gotik. 11 vols. Berlin and Munich, 1934-1961. Munich, 1961: 11:4.
1936
Oettinger, Karl. "Zur Malerei um 1400 in Österreich." Jahrbuch der Künsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien n.s. 10 (1936): 78.
1938
Ring, Grete. "Primitifs français." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6e per. 19 (1938): 157-168.
1942
Sterling, Charles. Les Peintres du Moyen Age. Paris, 1942: 15, no. 9.
1943
Larsen-Roman, Erik and Lucy Larsen-Roman. "Les Origines provençales du Maître de Heiligenkreuz." Apollo. Chronique des Beaux-Arts no. 18 (1943): 17-19.
1949
Ring, Grete. A Century of French Painting 1400-1500. London, 1949: 199, no. 59.
1956
Frankfurter, Alfred. "Crystal Anniversary in the Capital." Art News 55 (1956): 26, repro.
1956
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Colllection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 120-123, no. 46, repro.
1956
"The Kress Collection." Arts 30 (1956): 49, repro. 48.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 299, repro.
1960
Broadley Hugh T. German Painting in the National Gallery of Art (Booklet no. 9 in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). Washington, 1960: 2, 12-13, color repro.
1961
Musper, Heinrich Theodor. Gotische Malerei nördlich der Alpen. Cologne, 1961: 119, repro.
1961
Seymour, Charles. Art Treasures for America: An Anthology of Paintings & Sculpture in the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London, 1961: 18, 218, color fig. 16.
1962
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 50, color repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 110, repro. 111.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 85
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:100-101, color repro.
1968
Cuttler, Charles D. Northern Painting, from Pucelle to Bruegel: Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries. New York, 1968: 51.
1968
Galvan, Jose Maria Moreno, ed. Galleria Nazionale di Washington. Madrid, 1968: 35, 38-39, fig. 25, 31.
1968
Gandolf, Giampaolo et al. National Gallery of Art, Washington. (Great Museums of the World.) New York, 1968: 98, 99, color repro.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 75, no. 1162, repro.
1969
Steingräber, Erich. "Nachträge und Marginalien zur französisch-niederländischen Goldschmiedekunst des frühen 15. Jahrhunderts." Anzeiger des Germanischen Nationalmuseums (1969): 32, 34, fig. 6.
1970
Musper, Heinrich Theodor. Altdeutsche Malerei. Cologne, 1970: 28, 92, no. 18, repro. 93.
1974
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Master of Heiligenkreuz, ca. 1400." The Cleveland Museum of Art. European Paintings Before 1500. Catalogue of Paintings: Part One. Cleveland, 1974: 4-5, repro.
1975
Cinotti, Mia, ed. The National Gallery of Art of Washington and Its Paintings. Great Galleries of the World. Edinburgh, 1975: no. 92, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 222, repro. 223.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 147, no. 154, repro. 146.
1977
Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 232-236, figs. 225-226.
1979
Watson, Ross. National Gallery of Art Washington. New York, 1979: 51-52, color pl. 33. First English edition London, 1979: 51-52, color p. 33.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 5, repro. 3.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 254, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 56, repro.
1993
Hand, John Oliver, with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1993: 127-132, color repro. 129.
1995
Löcher, Kurt. Review of German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries, by John Oliver Hand with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. Kunstchronik 43 no. 1 (January 1995): 18.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 60-62, no. 46, color repro.

Conservation Notes

The support appears to consist of a three-member panel of fir with vertically oriented grain.[1] Direct examination was not possible because the edges of the panel have been enclosed with 0.5 cm thick strips of mahogany and a wooden cradle has been attached to the reverse.[2] On the reverse of the panel is a moderately thick layer of wax.

The major design elements of the composition, including the outlines of the figures, the primary drapery folds, major architectural motifs, and numerous details, are incised into the smooth white ground layer that is estimated to be somewhat thickly applied. Sheets of gold leaf have been applied, over a layer of thin, fluid red bole, to the upper background, the halos of the standing saints, and the angels under the canopy at the right. A great variety of punches in a wide range of sizes has been used to create in the gold leaf elaborate designs and figures of angels. Examination with infrared reflectography did not reveal underdrawing.

Examination of the technically congruent pendant, The Death of the Virgin, in the Cleveland Museum of Art provided important information about the probable original state of the National Gallery's picture.[3] The Cleveland panel is 1.3 cm thick, and the reverse covered with what appears to be an original layer of white ground; the panel has not been thinned or cradled. One can assume that the Washington panel, presently 1 cm thick, was in a similar state before cradling. In the Cleveland panel a fairly coarse and loosely woven plain-weave fabric is observable between the support and the overlying ground and paint layers. This helps to confirm the use of a fabric interlayer in the Washington painting, which is suggested by the weave pattern visible in the x-radiograph. The metal content pigments of both paintings were analyzed with x-ray fluorescence, and the results for the paintings were very similar.

The National Gallery's painting is structurally secure and is in very good condition. Small pinpoint losses are scattered throughout, and some of the paint surfaces are minutely abraded. Larger retouched areas of abrasion are located in paint next to the gilt areas of the canopy, along the left profile edge of the standing Virgin next to Saint Clare, and in the bottom of Christ's red robe. The gilt stars on Clare's bed are badly worn.

\r
[1] The identification of the wood as fir (sp. Abies) was made by the National Gallery's scientific research department.
[2] An x-radiograph made prior to cradling is in the National Gallery's conservation department.
\r[3] The examination was conducted 7-8 April 1988 by the author and by Paula DeCristofaro, formerly associate conservator for the Systematic Catalogue, with Bruce F. Miller, conservator of paintings at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I am most grateful to Mr. Miller and his staff for their assistance in making the painting available to us.

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