The Death of the Virgin, Master of the Eggelsberger Altar(active Passau c. 1481), Late 15th century
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The Death of the Virgin

Master of the Eggelsberger Altar
(active Passau c. 1481)

The Death of the Virgin

Oil on panel
Late 15th century

Dimensions

Height
104 cm; 50 in.
Width
75 cm; 29½ in.

Provenance

C. Sepp, Munich, 1869
Jean Dollfus (1823-1911), Paris
His estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1 April 1912, lot 31 (as École de Souabe)
With F. Kleinberger Galleries, Paris
From whom purchased by Mr. and Mrs. John Aldred, Lattingtown, New York, in 1923
Their sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 6 December 1940, lot 5 (as Peter Kaltenhof)
There purchased by Ollie Bird Porter, Mansfield, Ohio ($5,600)
By whom given in 1951 to the First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Mansfield, Ohio
In the collection of the above until 2013

Exhibitions

Musée du Louvre, Paris, Exposition de tableaux, statues et objects d’art au profit de l’Oeuvre des ophelins d’Alsace-Lorraine, 1885, no. 279
F. Kleinberger Galleries, New York, A Loan Exhibition of German Primitives for the Benefit of the American Red Cross, 3 – 30 November 1928

Literature

S. Reinache, Répertoire de Peintures du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance, Vol. 5 (Ernest Leroux Editeur, Paris, 1922), pl. 441
F. Kleinberger Galleries, Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of German Primitives for the Benefit of the American Red Cross, exhibition catalogue (F. Kleinberger Galleries Inc., New York, 1928), no. 15
I. Lübbeke, ‘Zu den Flügelgemälden von 1481 aus Eggelsberg‘ in L. Schultes and G. Winkler (eds.), Gothik Schätze Oberösterreich: Synposion im Linzer Schloss, 20. Bis 22. September 2002, Band. 20 (Gesellschaft für Landeskunde, Linz, 2003), pp. 257 ff, p. 258 (as location unknown)
L. Schultes, Die gotischen Flügelaltäre Oberösterreichs. Band 2. Retabel und Fragmente bis Ruelanf Frueauf (Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum, Linz; Bibliothek der Provinz, Weitra, 2005), pp. 112 ff, p. 112, fig. 223 (as location unknown)

Related literature

M. W. Ainsworth and J. Waterman , German Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1350-1600 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013), p. 214

The author of The Death of the Virgin has been identified as the Master of the Eggelsberger Altar, named for an eponymous altarpiece of the Virgin, originally made for the parish church of Eggelsberg, Austria. The altarpiece is dated 1481 on two panels and is now in the Oberösterreiches Landesmuseum, Linz. The master and his workshop were active at the end of the 15th century in Lower Bavaria and Upper Austria, a region that encompasses the diocese of Passau and extends to Salzburg. In her 2003 article, Isolde Lübbeke details the small group of high quality works attributable to him and notes the influence of Rueland Fruehauf, the most influential artist in the region, but suggests that further research is necessary to link the master to a historically verifiable personality (op. cit., pp. 268-269).

The present striking and emotive depiction of the Virgin’s death has now been recognised as a missing panel from a known altarpiece dating from the last decades of the 15th century. Lübbeke attributes convincingly this altarpiece to an artist or workshop active in or around Passau and, specifically, to the Master of the Eggelsberger Altar and, by examining panels now in two separate museums, reconstructs its appearance.

In its original form the altarpiece of which the present panel formed a part would have consisted of two painted wings, each with an upper and lower panel, flanking a larger carved central scene. Two panels from the wings, The Adoration of the Magi and The Nativity, are now in the Oberhaus Museum, Passau. On the reverse of each are three apostles; Saint John the Evangelist, Saint James the Lesser (?) and Saint Philip (?) and Saint Thomas, Saint. Matthew and Saint Bartholomew, respectively. The Death of the Virgin was recognised by Lübbeke as also belonging to the altar, but although she reproduces it in her article, she had never seen the work and was unaware of its current location (op. cit., p. 257). It is clear from the figure types and the composition and, perhaps more tellingly, from the identical patterning on the gold background, that these three scenes were part of the same project. The fourth panel, which has yet to be found, would have been either an Annunciation or Visitation. When the altarpiece was open the missing Annunciation or Visitation would have been at the upper left, The Adoration of the Magi at the lower left, The Nativity at the upper right and the present panel at the lower right. The centre would most probably have comprised the Coronation of the Virgin caved in wood. When the altar was closed, the twelve Apostles would have been visible, shown in four groups of three.

The present work would also have had a painted reverse with three apostles and Lübbeke has identified this convincingly as a panel depicting Saint James the Greater, Saint Simon and Saint Judas Thaddaus now in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Dijon (op. cit., p. 259). The Death of the Virgin was already split from the apostles by 1885 when the front and back were exhibited at the Musée du Louvre and listed under two different catalogue numbers, 279 and 280; the apostles described as Trois Saints and referred to as a pendant to La mort de la Vierge.

In our panel, as in the Death of the Virgin from the Eggelsberger Altar, the Virgin is shown kneeling, her arms crossed in prayer, rather than lying in bed. At the rear, her soul, represented as a young child, is held in the arms of God the Father. This depiction of the subject developed in the later 14th and early 15th century. Her kneeling or sitting posture reflects other scenes from the life of Christ and the Passion, including the Adoration and the Lamentation, and emphasises her humanity and suffering.