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III. MASTER FRANCKE

This artist, probably born about 1380, was active at least until 1436, and his work shows no influence from Master Bertram. He is now believed to have been a Dominican monk from the city of Zutphen in the central Netherlands - a document refers to him as "Fratre Francone Zutphanico". Thought to have been trained as a miniature painter, perhaps in Paris or Flanders, he later worked in Muenster (Westphalia) and finally in Hamburg.
Mr. Francke's art is notable for its very sophisticated use of color, as well as for strong facial expressions and "illusionistic" use of space, with care to establish several distinct planes, between which characters can move as though they were between pieces of stage scenery. In several of his paintings the foreground space is established by a large, plain surface resembling a sand dune or flow of lava; in others a large piece of drapery is held up by angels to mask the bottom of the picture.

The St. Barbara Altarpiece (Helsinki, Kansallismuseo).

Oak relief sculpture (by another artist: we didn't see it); oak wings with 8-part narrative of St. Barbara. The story comes from the Byzantine Menologion (10th c.), newly reissued in 1300 by the Teutonic Knights.
This work is an early one - perhaps as early as 1415-20, though some have dated it as late as 1425. It may very well have been painted for export to Finland originally - perhaps for the former Cathedral of Turku, which had a St. Barbara Altar beginning in 1412 and from which it would have been removed during the Reformation. Helsinki's museum acquired it from a small church in Nykyrko (S.W. Finland) in 1908, and were told that, according to local legend, it had washed ashore from the sea by a miracle.

The panels:

Dispute of St. Barbara with her Father: St. B., dressed in an elegant salmon-colored brocade, had been immured by her father in a tower. She now demands three windows built into her new bathroom, thus revealing that she has been converted to Christianity by means of correspondence with Origen. She counts her debating points on her fingers, medieval-style. The father is characterized as a villain - dark and swarthy, armed with a scimitar, and turning his back to us. He realizes that his political career is in the dumper unless he can get her to reconvert. (She runs away.)
The Miracle of the Wall: As Barbara's father pursues her, a big white wall miraculously springs up in front of him, allowing her to escape on the other side.
St. Barbara Betrayed by a Shepherd: The most drastic of Mr. Francke's spatial arrangements, The father and his men are huge, outranking the two little shepherds in the foreground as they ride between two pieces of stagelike scenery. One shepherd keeps quiet; the other tells which way St. Barbara has gone. As punishment, his sheep are turned into grasshoppers. (Or maybe those are locusts).
Other scenes: St. Barbara is captured and accused by the Emperor, tortured with torches, has one of her breasts cut off, and finally is beheaded.

 

The Altarpiece of St. Thomas a Becket. (Hamburg, Kunsthalle).

The original contract for this altarpiece is dated 1424 , "the Monday before St. Nicholas"(although the paintings were not completed until the mid-1430's.) The painter's name is given as "Mester Franckenn," and the commission was signed by two elders of the English Trading Company ("England-Travelers"; Englandfahrer Gesellschaft) for the company's altar on the south side of the Johanniskirche (Dominican church of St. John, Hamburg). The price is set at an "ungeheurlich" (immense) sum of 100 Lubeck marks.
The altarpiece has not survived intact: at some point it was dismantled and shipped to Schwerin, where it was discovered and reassembled. Missing are the two fixed wings (Standfluegel), and the Staffel, or predella, as well as most of the large Calvary picture that once formed the center of the shrine.

Exterior wings:

The Nativity (upper left): This unusual Nativity is one of the earliest to follow the visionary description of St. Bridget of Sweden (newly canonized in 1391.) St. Bridget declared that the Madonna gave birth instantly and painlessly, in a kneeling position, and clothed in white. She further declared that the newborn Infant glowed with divine light as He lay on the bare ground, and that the Virgin immediately began to pray to Him: "Welcome, my God, my Lord, and my Son." The virgin's banderole says "Dominus meus, Deus meus" (my Lord, my God). Another unusual feature is the fact that the Nativity is not set in a stable, but in a cave, according to the Byzantine tradition (the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem does include a grotto, which is said to be the actual place where Christ was born.) Scarlet skies with regularly-spaced gold stars are depicted in all four of these exterior wing paintings.
The Adoration of the Magi (upper right): Three Caucasian kings of differing ages have followed the one star singled out by a dark blue cloud. Madonna and Child are seated at the entrance to the stable; Joseph, still a low-genre character, turns his back to the viewer in order to reach out for the gift of gold, which he proposes to place on the table in the left foreground.
The Mocking of St. Thomas a Becket: This altar is dedicated to the English martyr, Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (not to the Apostle Thomas.) Becket was to be assassinated by order of the King of England, Henry II (see following panel), but this represents an earlier and unsuccessful attempt on his life. Becket and his companion ride away between two pieces of stage-like scenery as the assassins are left behind, cursing and holding the severed tail of Becket's white horse.
The Martyrdom of Becket: This event actually took place inside the cathedral of Canterbury, Becket's own church, in 1170. It was a political murder, and the papacy made sure that he was canonized almost immediately (1173), which led to Canterbury's becoming THE most popular English place of pilgrimage (this is where Chaucer's pilgrims were going.) In modern times, poets and dramatists have been fascinated by the story, from Tennyson (Becket) to T.S. Eliot (Murder in the Cathedral) and Jean Anouilh (Becket). Master Francke depicts the saint kneeling, already mortally wounded (that's the top of his skull stuck to the inside of his episcopal mitre on the floor), as he forgives his assassins and predicts that the church will endure.

Interior view: Scenes from the Passion of Christ

The center shrine survives only in a fragment from the lower lefthand corner, showing the Holy Women and St. John. This is flanked by a pair of wings with two scenes each, one above the other:
The Flagellation
Christ Bearing the Cross
The Entombment
The Resurrection: The Resurrection is particularly notable as non-Germanic: Christ climbs physically out of the open tomb, turning his back to the viewer. (thus, not mystically rising through the lid of the tomb with the seals in place.)

 

Other Paintings by Mr. Francke

The Man of Sorrows (Leipzig)
Oak panel: 42.5 x 31.3 cm (small).
This painting has its original frame of dark blue with gold, five-petalled roses (probably representing St. Bernard's rosa mystica, one petal for each of Christ's wounds). It is an Andachtsbild (picture to meditate on): thus not a picture of a historical action, but an image that is completed by the viewer's own meditation. Christ has been crucified, but not fully resurrected. He holds a scourge in each hand, perhaps an invitation to self-flagellation on the part of the viewer, who may well have been a monk. . This is an early painting by Mr. Francke, probably around the time of the St. Barbara altarpiece, for the body of Christ is still very slim and simplified, with no reference to musculature.
The panel is painted on the reverse side with a Sudarium (Veronica veil), which we didn't see. Both of these images were indulgenced.
Biblical inspiration for such pictures and meditations is found in several of the New Testament books written by St. Paul: Romans 8:17: "We are...joint heirs with Christ if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be glorified together." Philippians 3:10f.: "...that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings..."

 

Man of Sorrows as the Judex Mundi (Judge of the World) (Hamburg, Kunsthalle)
Oak panel: 92.5 x 67 cm.
Twice as large as the Leipzig picture (almost life-size), and much later, perhaps 1435 or -6. This seems to have been painted for the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross, which maintained an altar in the Johanniskirche from 1423 on, and may have been painted around the same time as the St. Thomas altarpiece for the same Dominican church. The body of Christ is much more powerful and well defined than in the Leipzig painting, and the foreground in masked by the piece of brocade held by the two angels, indicating that this is a vision.
The iconography of Christ as the Man of Sorrows, with elements from the Last Judgment (the lily of mercy and flaming sword of justice) is very unusual - this is the earliest example of it.

 


CONRAD VON SOEST (ca. 1360-1422)

The Niederwildungen Altarpiece (Bad Wildungen, Stadtkirche) 1403
24 1/2 ft. wide when opened.
Bad Wildungen is a spa in southern Westphalia (near Burg Friedrichstein), and this immense altarpiece was painted for the parish church of St. Nicholas (built in the early 14th century). The Latin inscription on the outside of the right wing syas: "In the year of our Lord MCCCCIII (I?) (1403 or 4: the last digit is unclear), on St. Aegidius's Day (i.e. Sept. 1) this work by Conrad the Painter from Soest was finished, in the time of the Rector of the altar, the priest Conrad Stollen."
Conrad Stollen the parish priest probably served as the iconographer for the altarpiece, which seems to have been funded by the Order of St. John.
Conrad von Soest's workshop was in the free Imperial city of Dortmund, where he was a man of considerable wealth and social standing. He was a member of the confraternities of the Marienkirche and of the Nikolaikirche in Dortmund, and was thus associated with the wealthy Hanseatic merchants of the city, six of whom signed his marriage contract in 1396.
The Niederwildungen Altarpiece is his earliest known work - a large Calvary flanked by twelve smaller paintings in two rows, six on each side. The Calvary painting is of particular interest to us, since it is of the same general type as Master Francke's damaged one, commissioned in Hamburg in 1424. The full cast of historical characters are represented: Christ, the two thieves (note the angel receiving the soul of the Good Thief, while a demon torments the Bad Thief). The Believing Centurion, the soldiers, the Pharisees, the men casting dice for Christ's clothes, and St. John with the Holy Women. The Pharisees and Roman government officials are particularly elegant in fashions reminiscent of the Burgundian court at Dijon. There also seems to be Parisian influence in his jewellike colors and red/blue balance. Non-French, however, is his comparatively raw application of real gold.
Also notable is the scene of the Nativity - old-style, with the Virgin in bed, but with a crouching Joseph blowing into the fire to heat a bowl of food for mother and child.

 


MASTER OF THE ORTENBERG ALTARPIECE

The Ortenberg Altarpiece (Darmstadt, Hessische Landesmuseum) ca. 1410-20(?)
Tempera, 1 meter high.
Probably painted either for the convent of Konradsdorf, or for the private chapel of Gottfried VIII von Muenzenberg-Eppstein. It was "discovered" in the 19th century in the parish church in Ortenberg.
This anonymous work is of interest for its highly unusual technique, which suggests the influence of metal or enamel work with its great areas of gold and silver. The painter seems to have been Middle Rhenish - perhaps from around Mainz, where goldsmith work was much more important than painting. The same artist seems also to have done stained glass. The golden garments are made by applying yellow varnish over silver foil; the shadows are cross-hatched rather than painted. The work has its original red frame, with gold ornaments.
Center panel: The Virgin and Child with Saints
Mary and Christ are surrounded by Sts. Anne, Elizabeth, Mary Cleophae, Mary Salome, Agnes, Dorothy Barbara and Ismeria (St. Anne's sister), and Ismeria's grandson, St. Servatius appears in the upper right corner. The children include Christ's cousins Simon, Joseph the Just, James Minor, Judas Thaddeus, James the Great, John the Evangelist and John the Baptist.
Dexter wing: The Nativity
Also featuring much gold and silver, and having a kneeling, Bridget-type Madonna.