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Saints played a very important role in the popular piety of the late Middle Ages. They were considered to be not only patrons and protectors against all manner of ills, but also mediators between the individual worshiper and God.

In this unusual scene, fourteen saints participate as witnesses at the Baptism of Christ. All the saints are vividly characterized by costume and attributes. They include the giant Christopher carrying the Christ Child on his shoulders, Catherine of Alexandria with sword and wheel of her martyrdom, Augustine holding his heart pierced by the arrow of divine love, Mary Magdalene with her ointment jar, and the chivalrous George kneeling on his dragon. The gold background, the luminescent cloud on which the saints float, and the unrealistic island setting for the Baptism itself all impart a visionary quality to the scene.

The Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altar, named after his monumental altarpiece now in Munich, was active in Cologne. Early in his career he seems to have worked as a manuscript illuminator, and this tradition is evident in his fluid paint handling and sparkling treatment of decorative details.

More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries, which is available as a free PDF


on banderolle: HIC EST EILIVS MEVS DILECTV IN QVO MICHI CON[P]LICVI (This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased), from Matthew 3:17; on heart held by Saint Augustine: IHS


Possibly a church in Arnhem.[1] Count Jacques de Bryas, Paris; (sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 6 February 1905, no. 20); (Galerie F. Kleinberger, Paris).[2] Richard von Kaufmann [1849-1908], Berlin; (his sale, Paul Cassirer and Hugo Helbing, Berlin, 4 December 1917, no. 132); possibly purchased by (Paul Graupe, Berlin)[3] for Otto Henkell [1869-1929], Wiesbaden. (Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York); purchased February 1955 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[4] gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Austellung von Werken alter Kunst aus dem Privatbesitz von Mitgliedern des Kaiser-Friedrich-Museums-Vereins, Königliche Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1914, no. 92.
Jahrtausend Ausstellung der Rheinlande in Köln, Messehalle, Cologne, 1925, no. 71.

Technical Summary

The painting is composed of four oak boards with horizontal grain, joined with a block and four-dowel system.[1] The boards have been thinned. There are unpainted edges at the top, bottom, and left sides. A backing board, also oak, and a cradle have been attached. The smooth white ground is covered by a striated isolation coat containing lead-white. Examination with infrared reflectography reveals extensive densely hatched and crosshatched underdrawing in the figures, which appears to have been done with a brush. A good deal of this underdrawing is visible to the naked eye. Traces of gold leaf can be seen in the musical instruments held by the foreground angels and in the censer held by an angel. There are extensive flake losses throughout, most noticeably in the lower half of the angel playing a vielle. There are small, scattered losses in the figures of Christ and John the Baptist. In addition, the paint surface has suffered from abrasion, and it is likely that glazes are missing. What was originally gold leaf in the background has been largely replaced by gold-colored paint. In 1905 the painting bore a false Lucas van Leyden monogram, which was probably removed before 1941.

[1] The wood was identified as oak by the National Gallery's scientific research department.


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