During the crucial decade on both sides of 1500, South German art developed from the last flowering of the medieval to the beginning of the Renaissance. At this time the leading engraver in Nuremberg and central Germany was clearly Albrecht Dürer; along the upper Rhine, it was Martin Schongauer; and in Munich and Bavaria, it was the Master MZ. The latter shows characteristics not of a goldsmith but of a painter. He is frequently identified with one of at least two recorded artists called Matthäus Zaisinger.
The Master MZ treated religious, secular, and contemporary historical subjects with a distinctive artistic personality. He continued the medieval lack of concern with relative sizes in perspective, so his larger compositions sometimes seem like collages of separate units incorporating different parts of a story. His major figures, however, show the new Renaissance concern for three-dimensional realism, with forms robustly rounded or modeled through light and shadow. Besides distinctive details like elongated bodies with small heads and voluminous drapery cascading into numerous soft folds, he manifested special sensitivity to landscape, particularly its atmospheric qualities and the individual life of sprightly trees, reeds, and plants. All those characteristics influenced Albrecht Altdorfer, Wolf Huber, and other early painters and sculptors of the Danube School, which developed along that river in the Regensburg-Passau-Linz area. As opposed to Dürer's beautiful but rationally structured landscapes, those of the Master MZ are more tender and intimate, and more emotionally expressive, exactly the features developed further by Altdorfer and Huber in their most distinctive art.
Of 22 engraved subjects by the Master MZ, the Gallery owns 14. His largest engraving, and by far his most popular, was this Martyrdom of Saint Catherine, with his most extensive landscape background. In 1945 Lessing Rosenwald gave the Gallery an impression of this engraving, and in 1976 the Gallery acquired a second, better impression. With the Pepita Milmore Memorial Fund, the Gallery has now acquired this third impression, which is superb and the finest example in America.
The quality of this impression adds enormously to its artistic effect, especially in the general clarity of image, the subtlety of facial expressions, the modeling of figures with light and shade, the recession in the landscape, the shimmering reflections on the water, plus the soft atmosphere and interaction between the reeds, plants, and trees around the lakeshore.
The National Gallery has built the finest collection outside Europe of Danube School prints and drawings, including uniquely important works by both Altdorfer and Huber. This outstanding impression of the Master MZ's most important engraving provides an excellent beginning for that development in Bavaria.
lower center in plate: MZ; by later hand, lower right in pen and ink: 193; by later hand, center verso in pen and ink: 193; by later hand, lower center verso in graphite: 6132
Private collection, Hannover. (C. G. Boerner, Düsseldorf, 1963, stock no. 6132). Private collection, Wuppertal. (C. G. Boerner, New York); purchased by NGA, 2010.
- Lehrs, Max. Geschichte und kritischer Katalog des deutschen, niederlandischen und franzosischen Kupferstichs im XV. Jahrhundert. 9 vols. and 1 plate vol. Vienna: Gesellschaft fur vervielfaltigende Kunst, 1908-1934