The Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altar takes his name from an altarpiece dated c. 1505/1510 depicting on the center panel Saint Bartholomew, flanked by Saints Agnes and Cecilia. Although the painting is known to have been in the church of Saint Columba in Cologne, the Carthusian monk kneeling next to Saint Bartholomew raises the possibility of associations with the Carthusian monastery in Cologne.
It is now generally believed that the master was born and first trained in the Netherlands, perhaps in Utrecht or in the Gelderland region, and that possibly around 1480 he emigrated to Cologne. He is considered to have been active c. 1475-1510. Our knowledge of his early style proceeds from the miniatures in the Hours of Sophia van Bylant, one of which, The Flagellation, is dated 1475. The calendar of the manuscript is that of the diocese of Utrecht, but certain linguistic peculiarities of the text point to Arnhem, as does the fact that the donor lived in that region. Early works, dated to the 1480s, such as the Adoration of the Kings or the Madonna and Child with Saint Anne exhibit affinities with north Netherlandish art and were possibly created in the Netherlands. The only documented works by the Bartholomew Master are two altarpieces commissioned for the Carthusian monastery in Cologne by Dr. Peter Rinck, a lawyer.
Despite several attempts, the Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altar has resisted identification. It has, however, been suggested that because of the commissions for the Carthusian monastery, the artist might have been a member of the Order himself. The Master is often spoken of as the last "Gothic" painter of the Cologne school. Approximately twenty-five paintings have been attributed to him and are highly individual in style. Despite the fact that he was the leading painter in Cologne at the end of the century, the Bartholomew Master seems to have had no direct followers or a school in the usual sense. [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, D.C., 1993: 133.]
Rath, Karl vom. Der Meister des Bartholomäusaltares. Bonn, 1941.
Der Meister des Bartholomäus Altares, der Meister des Aachener Altares. Kölner Maler der Spätgotik. Exh. cat. Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, 1961.
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, D.C., 1993: 133.