UNKNOWN MASTER, altarpiece painter
St Nicholas Resurrects Three Deadsc. 1490
Tempera on wood, 102 x 94 cm
Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest
There are two related panels, painted on both sides, in the Hungarian National Gallery which once were the wings of an altarpiece dedicated to St Martin and St Nicholas.
This painting, together with that of Bishop St. Martin's Mass, decorated the inner side of one wing of an altarpiece; an exterior painting representing St. Nicholas and the three daughters of a poor nobleman, was the work of a minor master. This was often the case with winged altars: since they were open most of the time, the inner panels were painted by a master painter, the exterior by a member of his workshop.
The scene is set in the open air. The winding road disappearing into the distance serves to integrate the group of figures into the imaginary landscape. St. Nicholas stands out against the group of fashionable turbaned, worldly-looking men, not only as the central figure in the composition, but also owing to his striking and transfigured countenance. From among the worldly members of the group, the man shown with his back turned towards us, has clearly been painted by a highly gifted master. His posture is one often seen in Netherlandish art and accounts partly for the spatial arrangement of the whole group. The turbaned figure in yellow is noteworthy for the plastic shading of the rich folds of his garment, reminiscent of Gothic carving. The glittering sheet of water surrounding the small town, fabulous on the whole but not without realistic elements, the forest with its colourful foliage and the fox with a bird running toward the thicket, are some of the finest and most painterly details in the picture. The delicate shading of the faces must be the work of a very talented master of the late fifteenth century.
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