German, School of Ulm, active 1450s
Saint Mary Magdalene, ca. 1450
Oil on linen affixed to panel (spruce?)
19 7/8 x 15 5/16 in. (50.5 x 38.9 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1941
The Master of the Sterzing Altarpiece was the foremost painter in Ulm during the third decade of the fifteenth century. Paintings by the Sterzing Master show strong ties to contemporary Netherlandish painting, and are characterized by clearly delineated, monumental forms, and a realistic sense of space. The extraordinarily well-preserved Saint Mary Magdalene is probably a fragment from a larger altarpiece, as yet unidentified.
Identified by her characteristic attribute of a majolica unguent jar, Saint Mary Magdalene is seen at half-length, posed before an elaborately tooled gold background. Her apple-green, fur-lined robe, open at the neck and cinched by a decorative belt, is paired with a rose cloak trimmed with a delicate gold and pearl border. A turban-like headdress adorned with a large brooch rests atop her flowing hair; a simple halo is incised in the gold ground about her head.
Stange dated the Oberlin painting to the 1470s and tentatively related it to two other panels attributed to the Master of the Sterzing Altarpiece, representing Saint Barbara and Saint Ursula (Colmar, Unterlinden Museum).1 Although difficult to judge in their present (damaged) state, the Colmar panels do not appear to be by the same hand as the Oberlin painting, which is moreover in an excellent state of preservation. In his review of Stange's study, Bushart further suggested that the date proposed there for the Saint Mary Magdalene (1470s) was too late, and that in fact the Oberlin painting was much closer in style and date to the Sterzing Altarpiece (ca. 1456-58, now Vipiteno [Sterzing], Italy, Museo Multscher).2 Panels from the latter work share the combination of bold, monumental forms--the large, simply draped figures--and meticulous attention to detail, as displayed in the magnificent costumes and flowing hair. The use of a decorative patterned gold ground is similar in all works.
The panel representing Saint Mary Magdalene has probably been somewhat reduced in size (see Technical Data), and was originally incorporated into a larger altarpiece. Stechow proposed a reconstruction of the original context of the Oberlin Saint Mary Magdalene and its companion, a Female Saint (Martha?) (last recorded in the collection of H. Kisters, Kreuzlingen).3 In his view the two panels formed the interior face[s] of shutters to the predella; half-figure saints holding attributes were not uncommon subjects in this format.4
Alternatively, the two half-length figures may have formed the extreme upper right and upper left panels of an opened altarpiece; when the altar was closed, these panels would have covered the raised center section of the altarpiece.
Stechow (followed by Musper) further suggested that the Saint Mary Magdalene (and its companion) may have come from the Heiligenkreuztal Altarpiece, one of the finest works by the Sterzing Master.5 Other panels from this altar, in Karlsruhe (Staatliche Kunsthalle, invs. 32 and 33) and Stuttgart (Staatsgalerie, invs. 32 and 38), are stylistically very close to the Oberlin painting. The Heiligenkreuztal Altarpiece can probably be dated to the mid 1450s, slightly earlier than the Sterzing Altar.
M. E. Wieseman
The artist known as the Master of the Sterzing Altarpiece was active in Ulm, Germany, in the 1450s and later. He seems to have worked in the workshop or immediate circle of the sculptor Hans Multscher (1400-ca. 1467). The Sterzing Master's artistic identity is based on two painted altarpiece wings representing scenes from the life of Mary and the Passion of Christ, dating from about 1456-58 (now Vipiteno [Sterzing], Museo Multscher). The wings were originally part of a carved altarpiece commissioned of Multscher by the Pfarrkirche in Sterzing (now Vipiteno, Unsere Liben Frau im Moos) and installed there in 1458/9. The Sterzing Master was influenced not only by Multscher, but also by Netherlandish painting, especially that of Rogier van der Weyden (ca. 1399-1464). The latter influence is manifested in his elongated figures and facial types, and his distinctive representation of landscape and interior spaces. The Sterzing Master's works are characterized by clear, monumental forms, a sense of movement in the compositions, and a wealth of detail skillfully integrated into the whole.
Stange, Alfred. Deutsche Malerei der Gotik. Vol. 8. Berlin, 1957, pp. 5-9.
Stange, Alfred. Kritisches Verzeichnis, Die Deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer. Vol. 2. Munich, 1970, pp. 124-27.
Possibly with Julius Böhler, Munich (1927?)6
Collection W. C. Escher, Zurich (sold ca. 1933)
With Henry Schniewind, New York (1936)
With Richard Ederheimer, New York (1936)
With Schaeffer Galleries, New York (by 1939?), from whom purchased in 1941
Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1936. An Exhibition of European Art 1450-1500. 8 May - 8 June. Cat. no. 36.
Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University, Germanic Museum, 1936. Cat. no. 20.
New York, Schaeffer Galleries, 1936-37. Winter. No cat.
New York, R. Ederheimer, 1936. A Selection of Paintings by the Old Masters. Cat. no. 11.
Toronto Art Gallery, 1938. Paintings of Women from the 15th to the 20th Century. Cat. no. 3.
New York, Schaeffer Galleries, 1939. Early German Paintings. Cat. no. 16.
New York, Durlacher Brothers, 1947. German Painting of the Fifteenth Century. 10 - 29 March. Cat. no. 8.
Oberlin, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, 1953. Paintings from College and University Collections. 20 January - 15 February. Cat. no. 12.
New York, M. Knoedler Co., Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries: Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 19.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975-76. Extended loan for exhibition withe permanent collection. 9 April 1975 - 22 December 1976. No cat.
Kuhn, Charles L. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 59, no. 225, pl. XLIII.
An Exhibition of European Art 1450-1500. Exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1936, cat. no. 36, ill.
Exh. cat., Harvard University, Germanic Museum, Cambridge, Mass., 1936, cat. no. 20, pl. 9.
A Selection of Paintings by the Old Masters. Exh. cat., Richard Ederheimer, New York, 1936, no. 11, ill.
H[eld], J. S. In Pantheon 20 (1937), p. 227.
Paintings of Women from the 15th to the 20th Century. Exh. cat., Toronto Art Gallery, 1938, cat. no. 3.
Early German Paintings. Exh. cat., Schaeffer Galleries, New York, 1939, cat. no. 16.
Francis, Henry S. "The Lovers: a Swabian Gothic Picture of Secular Life in the Fifteenth Century." Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 6, vol. 24 (December 1943), pp. 351-52, fig. 7.
Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 1, no. 2 (1944), p. 33, no. 38.
German Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Exh. cat., Durlacher Brothers, New York, 1947, cat. no. 8.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "The Art Museum at Oberlin." College Art Journal 6 (Spring 1947), p. 196.
Stechow, Wolfgang. In Maandblad voor Beeldende Kunsten 24 (1948), p. 59, ill. p. 54.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Die Sammlung des Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio." Phoebus 2, no. 3 (1949), p. 120, ill. p. 118.
Thieme, Ulrich, and Felix Becker, eds. Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler von der Antieke bis zur Gegenwart. Vol. 37. Leipzig, 1950, p. 317 (see also the review by E. Buchner, in Zeitschrift für Kunst 4 , p. 319).
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Notes on the Master of the Sterzing Altarpiece." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 8, no. 3 (Spring 1951), pp. 87-94.
"Exhibition of Paintings from College and University Collections." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 10, no. 2 (Winter 1953), pp. 47-48, no. 12, ill.
Stange, Alfred. Deutsche Malerei der Gotik. Vol. 8. Berlin, 1957, pp. 8-9, fig. 15.
Bushart, B. "Studien zur altschwäbischen Malerei, Ergänzungen und Berichtigungen zu Alfred Stanges 'Deutsche Malerei der Gotik.'" Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 22 (1959), pp. 136-37.
Musper, H. Th. Gotische Malerei nördlich der Alpen. Cologne, 1961, p. 89 fig. 70, p. 90.
Lauts, Jan. Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Katalog Alte Meister bis 1800. Vol 1. Karlsruhe, 1966, p. 199.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 105-6, fig. 15.
Stange, Alfred. Kritisches Verzeichnis, Die Deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer. Vol. 2. Munich, 1970, p. 125, no. 573.
Rettich, Edeltraut. In Staatsgalerie Stuttgart: Alte Meister. Stuttgart, 1992, p. 260.
The present piece is clearly a fragment of a larger construction. The panel, composed of four radially-cut boards (spruce), covered by a layer of canvas fabric, has been thinned, cradled, and trimmed at least slightly on the left, right, and bottom edges. There are two thin vertical splits extending the length of the panel, approximately 6.4 cm (2 1/2 in.) from the left and 3.8 cm (1 1/2 in.) from the right edges. There is minimal loss to the paint surface associated with these splits; other minor losses are found along the edges of the panel, but on the whole the paint surface is in exceptional condition. The white ground is built up of several layers, with a coarser undercoating (gesso grosso) followed by finer layers of gesso sottile. The paint layer appears to be an egg tempera base, with localized glazes in an oil-based medium. The tooled background is covered with gold leaf, with mordant gilt decoration at the edge of the figure's cloak and in other details. Underdrawing is visible in the figure's face, neck, and turban.
1. Alfred Stange, Deutsche Malerei der Gotik, vol. 8 (Berlin, 1957), pp. 8-9.
2. B. Bushart, "Studien zur altschwäbischen Malerei, Ergänzungen und Berichtigungen zu Alfred Stanges 'Deutsche Malerei der Gotik,'" Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 22 (1959), pp. 136-37.
3. Oil on panel, 50 x 38 cm; Wolfgang Stechow, "Notes on the Master of the Sterzing Altarpiece," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 8, no. 3 (Spring 1951), pp. 89-94, ill. fig. 1. The companion painting was in the collection of W. C. Escher, Zurich, before 1933, and was most recently recorded in the collection of H. Kisters, Kreuzlingen; see Alfred Stange, Kritisches Verzeichnis, Die Deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer, vol. 2 (Munich, 1970), p. 125, no. 573b. Stange tentatively identified the figure in this piece as Saint Dorothy.
4. This possibility had first been proposed by Ernst Bucher, in an expertise of the Saint Mary Magdalene dated Munich, 27 July 1927.
5. H. Th. Musper, Gotische Malerei nördlich der Alpen (Cologne, 1961), p. 89.
6. Noted by Alfred Stange, Kritisches Verzeichnis, Die Deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer, vol. 2 (Munich, 1970), p. 125, no. 573.