The Master of Frankfurt / The Netherlands 1460–c.1520–c.1533 / Virgin and Child with Saint James the Pilgrim, Saint Catherine and the Donor with Saint Peter c.1496 / Oil on oak panel / 69 x 55.2cm / Purchased 1980 with funds from Utah Foundation through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

The Master of Frankfurt
Virgin and Child with Saint James the Pilgrim, Saint Catherine and the Donor with Saint Peter c.1496

On Display: QAG, Gallery 9

This work represents a typical example of fifteenth-century Netherlandish painting in its religious subject matter, style and symbolism. Wooden panels, rather than paper or canvas, were used as the main support for paintings in Northern Europe during the fifteenth century.

Panel paintings were usually part of a larger, elaborate altarpiece in a church and depicted scenes from the gospels and the life of Christ. Pigments were sourced from minerals, plants and other organic substances and laboriously ground by hand, mixed with oils and mediums, and painstakingly applied to timber panels.

The wealthy patron who commissioned the work is shown on the right, kneeling at the prayer desk as if participating in the holy scene. The man’s head is superimposed over that of a female figure, leaving her flowing robes and delicate hands intact.

X-ray research has confirmed that a donatrix (female) has been overpainted and replaced by the male donor. The religious symbolism in the painting would have been easily understood by the church-going public at the time; examples include St Catherine holding the ring signifying her mystic marriage to the church, St James with a pilgrim’s hat and staff, and St Peter in papal robes holding the key to heaven; the dog symbolises faithfulness.

The identity of the painter known as the Master of Frankfurt remains unknown; around 50 works have been attributed to the artist. The Master of Frankfurt worked in Frankfurt and Cologne. His chief works from the early sixteenth century can be found in Frankfurt and Munich.

It is unknown whether he came from the Netherlands or the Lower Rhine River area of Germany. His name refers to the location of his two altarpieces, and his works suggest that he was principally influenced by the School of Antwerp where he operated a workshop.

His traditional, conservative style reveals the marked influence of fifteenth-century Netherlandish painting. His finest works are a group of small panels executed between 1510 and 1520, most of them portraits or depictions of the Virgin and Child. No works or documents relating to the artist are known after 1520.

Discussion Questions

1. This painting uses symbolism to convey meaning. Can you identify any of the symbols in the painting?

2. Study the donor, who is seen praying in the painting. Do you notice anything unusual about him?

Classroom Activities

1. If you look closely at the artwork, you will see very intricate detail. Use a viewfinder to choose and isolate one small aspect of the painting as a focus for an artwork. Use coloured pencils to recreate a small and detailed composition.

2. In groups, invent an interesting narrative and photograph yourselves using costumes and props to provide clues to help viewers interpret the story.