Sassetta: the quest for an altarpiece – (1) The road to Borgo

Sassetta, detail of the Funeral of St Francis, panel from Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece, 1437-1444, National Gallery, London

Sassetta, detail of the Funeral of St Francis, panel from Borgo San Sepolcro altarpiece, 1437-1444, National Gallery, London

It must have been a strange procession that wound its way from Siena to the town of Borgo San Sepolcro in the late Spring of 1444. The renowned Sienese painter Stefano di Giovanni (ca. 1392-1450), known as Sassetta, the carpenter who had crafted the frame and perhaps Sassetta’s close colleague Pietro Giovanni d’Ambrogio with other assistants arrived in Borgo with the enormous polyptych commissioned by the Franciscans of the convent of San Francesco seven years earlier. The altarpiece would have been transported in separate units: its predella, main tier, pilasters and pinnacles would be assembled on the spot. The men would also have brought with them dowels, iron devices, nails and tools for the carpenter (in all likelihood the one responsible for constructing the altarpiece’s frame back in Siena) to install the painted structure on the high altar. Sassetta had come not only to oversee the installation but also, if necessary, to repair any paintwork that may have sustained damage during transportation.

Anonymous painter, 16th century, with view of Sansepolcro, Museo Civico, Sansepolco

Anonymous painter, 16th century, panel with view of Sansepolcro, Museo Civico, Sansepolco

On June 2nd Sassetta’s polyptych was installed on San Francesco’s high altar which had been erected exactly 140 years earlier to commemorate Blessed Ranieri, a local Franciscan friar. The townspeople would have flocked to the church to see the new altarpiece. It had come from afar: the more usual practice was to erect structures on altars to be painted in situ, but on this occasion the first time the people of Borgo laid eyes on Sassetta’s majestic polyptych was in its finished and mounted form on the altar. Among the eager viewers were the young Piero della Francesca, a native of the town, and his master Antonio di Giovanni d’Anghiari. The two had failed to complete the altarpiece commissioned from them for the same church which was now replaced by Sassetta’s polyptych.

Church of San Francesco, Sansepolcro, photo MD 2011

Church of San Francesco, Sansepolcro, photo MD 2011

The installation of Sassetta’s altarpiece is uniquely recorded by Ser Francesco de’Larghi, notary and chancellor of the town, who, among the customary dry notarial acts recording sales, receipts and testaments, noted:

On the second day of the month of June [1444], which was the third day of Pentecost, the altarpiece painted and decorated by Stefano of Siena was placed on the high altar of the Church of San Francesco in Borgo. Benedictus Deus.

The polyptych stood on the altar of San Francesco for over a century. During the Counter-Reformation the altarpiece was dismantled but several panels still remained in the church, mounted on other altars as recorded by Apostolic Vicar Angelo Peruzzi who visited the church in 1583 and noted a “beautiful picture with beautiful framework” on one of its altars.

The cult of Blessed Ranieri and the Franciscans of Borgo San Sepolcro

Ranieri's corpse laid out in front of the high altar, 1954

Ranieri’s “incorrupt”corpse laid out in front of the high altar of San Francesco in 1954 on the 650th anniversary of his death

On 1 November 1304, Ranieri, a local man who was a lay brother of the Franciscan order in Borgo San Sepolcro (today: Sansepolcro) died. Nothing is known about his life other than his name, the date of his death and one or two miracles said to have taken place during his lifetime as recorded in a 1532 religious play about the friar. Probably from a poor background Ranieri would not have had a last name although in later times the family name “Rasini” came in use, however without historic foundation. It was not until after Ranieri’s death, in fact the very next day, that miracles started to occur in rapid succession, first through direct physical contact with the friar’s corpse and later by physical contact with his casket or by praying for his intervention. The Liber Miracolorum, recording testimonies of those Borgo citizens who had sought and found healing through Ranieri, survives in two manuscripts, the oldest dating from the 14th century. As many as sixty miracles are recorded for the period from his death on 1 November 1304 until April of the next year.

In Borgo San Sepolcro the climate was ripe for a local cult such as that of the Blessed Ranieri. The founding of a Franciscan convent with its church, the emergence of other confraternities as a focus for lay devotion and charity and the winning of self-government by the secular elite made that new saints were required: holy men and women who were local, therefore approachable, unburdened by high ecclesiastical office, contemporary, and who would be role models for the people. Ranieri fitted that bill exactly.

Detached fresco from San Francesco by a local anonymous artist depicting Saint Anthony Abbot, Madonna Lactans, Christ enthroned and a Franciscan Saint presenting a female donor figure, late 14th century, 215x263 cm, Museo Civico, Sansepolcro. Photo MD, 2011

Detached fresco from the church of San Francesco by a local anonymous artist depicting Saint Anthony Abbot, Madonna Lactans, Christ enthroned and a Franciscan Saint presenting a female donor figure, late 14th century, 215×263 cm, Museo Civico, Sansepolcro. Photo MD, 2011

Towards the end of that same year, 1304, the first step was taken to propagate Ranieri’s cult: a high altar dedicated to his memory. In view of the new climate described above it is important to remember that not the Franciscans but the commune commissioned the altar. It still stands in the church today and the crypt where Ranieri rests, now in a 16th century wooden sarcophagus, is also still largely intact but in all other respects the early gothic church interior is unrecognisable today, having been rebuilt between 1752 and 1760. Only very few original architectural elements survive and the frescos that once adorned the walls, those that survived, were detached and are now on display in the Museo Civico close to the church, as are the church’s carved choir stalls with intarsia panels dating from around 1495.

High altar, church of San Francesco, Sansepolcro, 1304

High altar, church of San Francesco, Sansepolcro, 1304

San Francesco’s high altar is of dark-gray sandstone or pietra serena. It consists of an immense monolith measuring 181 x 342.5 cm which rests on a block carved with large, rectangular rosette reliefs, surrounded by an arcade consisting of colonnettes, the majority of which with a rich variety of twisting designs. In its design it followed the Franciscan typology, modeled ultimately on the high altar of the Lower Church of San Francesco in Assisi which was consecrated in 1253.

San Francesco, Assisi, high altar of the Lower Church (Basilica Inferiore), consecrated 1253

San Francesco, Assisi, high altar of the Lower Church (Basilica Inferiore), consecrated 1253

The inscription on the front of Borgo’s altar’s mensa is unique among surviving Franciscan high altars and testifies to the close links between the friars and the local community:

In the year of our Lord 1304 on the Feast of All Saints, Saint Ranieri migrated to the Lord. In that year the commune of Borgo commissioned this altar to the honour of God and the magnificence of the said saint. Amen.

Once Ranieri had been laid to rest in the crypt below the presbytery, the worshippers could see his tomb from all sides through grids in the altar steps as is still possible today, again a similar situation as once existed in Assisi.

The presbytery of San Francesco today with the high altar and grills in the altar steps

The presbytery of San Francesco today with the high altar and grids in the altar steps

Precedents and empty altarpieces

In 1426 the carpenter Bartolomeo di Giovannino d’Angelo was commissioned to construct a frame following the model of Sienese artist Niccolò di Segna’s altarpiece of 1340-50 in the church of the Camaldolese order (today’s cathedral) with the difference that the altarpiece for San Francesco should be prepared for painting on both sides.

Niccolò di Segna, c. 1350, Duomo Sansepolcro

Niccolò di Segna, c. 1340-50, tempera and gold on panel, 374.5 cm wide, Duomo, Sansepolcro

Giovanni del Biondo, Rinuccini Polyptych, Florence, S. Croce, detail showing buttress

Giovanni del Biondo, Rinuccini Polyptych, Florence, S. Croce, detail showing buttress

Di Segna’s monumental altarpiece consists of a large panel with a depiction of the Resurrection in the center and four panels showing saints in three-quarter length on the sides. The panels are all the same height and have trapezoidal tops, but the central panel was twice as wide as the side panels. The original slender, rectangular, gilt pilasters adorned with blue paint survive with those framing the central scene are slightly thicker than those at the sides. In the upper tier, which was painted on the same planks of wood as the main section are depictions of pairs of saints under double arches. The altarpiece would have been wider than the altar on which it stood and framed on the sides by vertical buttresses, necessary to distribute the weight of such a large altarpiece. In addition, such buttresses provided space for the representation of a large number of additional saints. The existence of similar buttresses for the San Francesco altarpiece is confirmed in the commission of 1426 and the documents of 1439: the carpenter was to use a piece of iron “to sustain the necessary columns”.

When Antonio d’Anghiari was commissioned to paint the double-sided altarpiece for San Francesco in 1430, the wooden structure had already stood empty on the high altar for four years. Work still did not begin until two years later when Antonio, with the young Piero della Francesca as his assistant, started to prepare the front face. But they never actually seem to have begun painting and Antonio eventually lost the commission, perhaps because he had not been able to complete the work in the required time-span of three and a half years. He seems to have suffered from chronic poverty and may not have been able to pay the expenses of the altarpiece: the gold and pigments, among which the expensive azurite stipulated in the contract. Due to his financial distress he may also have taken on various other jobs such as repair work which meant that any progress (if at all) on the altarpiece was slow. It seems to have been left to young Piero, then about 15 years old, to gesso (ground with gypsum) the wooden structure installed on the high altar, a time-consuming and laborious task.

Anonymous fresco, ...., Sant'Andrea, Siena

Anonymous fresco, trompe l’oeil of a wooden polyptych, 1370s, Sant’Andrea, Siena

It should be noted that it was by no means unusual for a wooden structure to stand on an altar unpainted for a long period. An illustration of this phenomenon is a fresco in the church of Sant’Andrea, Siena, showing bare wood with no figures. To assume that this fresco is unfinished is not correct: it merely reflects a reality found in several Italian churches of the period. In one case, in Rome, it took as much as twelve years until a painter was commissioned to paint a bare wooden structure standing on a high altar. Possible reasons for this phenomenon could be that the patrons, after paying for the carpentry, needed ample time to gather enough funds to hire a painter. Often such funding was co-dependent on private donations and the sale of properties or land. In the case of the Franciscans in Borgo the process, due to its exceptional circumstances, would even take eighteen years from the initial carpentry commission in 1426 to the installation of the altarpiece in 1444.

Choosing Sassetta

Why, after D’Angiari’s and Piero’s failed enterprise, did the friars of Borgo turn to Siena and in particular to Sassetta? For one thing, Sienese artists such as Taddeo di Bartolo and Niccolò di Segna had, in the previous century, worked frequently on distant commissions as the latter’s altarpiece for the abbey and another, now lost, altarpiece for Borgo attested so that there would have been a predilection for Sienese art in Borgo. They may have known his work from Borgo citizens traveling to Siena or from works in nearby Cortona where the painter was born. Another factor may have been the painter’s association with Bernardino from Siena, the Franciscan order’s most celebrated preacher. As Machtelt Israëls suggests, Sassetta very likely painted a large Assumption of the Virgin for the Osservanza convent church in Siena in the 1430s (previously thought to post-date the Borgo altarpiece) while the celebrated and influential Franciscan preacher Bernardino was in residence.

Sassetta, Assumption of the Virgin surrounded by agnels, mid-1430s, tempera and gold on panel, 332x224 cm. Formerly Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin (destroyed in 1945)

Sassetta, Assumption of the Virgin surrounded by angels, mid-1430s, tempera and gold on panel, 332×224 cm. Formerly Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin (destroyed in 1945)

It is, however, not likely that Bernardino himself had anything to do with a Franciscan commission for a small conventual convent in the back waters at Borgo San Sepolcro although his association with the painter may have helped: any control of the subject matter and the execution of the altarpiece was after all the responsibility of the Borgo convent as its commissioner. Certainly, by commissioning the Sienese painter who was then at the height of his artistic powers, conveys the ambitions of the Franciscans of Borgo and possibly a conscious intent to compete with and even outshine the older altarpiece in the town’s abbey.

What made Sassetta especially suitable for this ambitious undertaking was his ability to translate spirituality into intimate imagery, something that would have appealed especially to the Franciscans: colour pitched to the subtlest intensity, figures that are almost flimsy, almost naive, set in fluid, intricate architecture. He had also proved that he was immensely versatile and could adapt his style when a commission demanded it. His Wool Guild (Arte della Lana) altarpiece (1423-25) was an ingeniously movable, highly elaborate gothic altarpiece used by the guild for its outdoor celebration of the Feast of Corpus Domini and otherwise stored in the guild’s palazzo. Although today only a few fragments survive, these are indicative of Sassetta’s artistic ambition and the stylistic and aesthetic aims he sought to achieve.

Sassetta’s art is unmistakably Sienese in its mysticism and refinement rather than analytical such as Florentine art of the period. He made constant reference to his great Trecento predecessors such as Duccio, Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti but he did so in such a way that it emphasised his “modernity” at the same time: his heightened flat colours and abstracted space are closer, perhaps, to Bonnard and Matisse than Masaccio. His indebtedness to Pietro Lorenzetti’s altarpiece for the Carmine in Siena of a century earlier is evident in the astonishingly complex architecture of the Wool Guild panels. Although these do not yet demonstrate a full understanding of perspective, the interiors are completely coherent and innovative.

Sassetta, predella panel of the Arte della Lana altarpiece: St Thomas Aquinas at prayer, 1423-25, tempera and gold on panel, 24x30 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Sassetta, predella panel of the Arte della Lana altarpiece: St Thomas Aquinas at prayer, 1423-25, tempera and gold on panel, 24×30 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

For instance, in the scene depicting Saint Thomas Aquinas at prayer, the figure of the Saint kneeling in front of an altar surmounted by a splendid polyptych is minimal; nothing more than a black pedestal surmounted by a haloed egg. The real emotional vehicle is the spatial setting which juxtaposes interior and exterior, inviting us out into the cloister garden with its fountain as well as deep into the monastic library with its terraced rows of desks lit by stained glass windows. All is precisely and independently envisioned and subtly illustrative of the Saint’s monastic life. Only when we notice the grey dove of the Holy Spirit descending does this space take on full significance. Aquinas’ writings provided the foundation of the liturgy of Corpus Christi and here, kneeling before the altarpiece of the Virgin, he receives divine inspiration. The natural beauty, the waters of the well, the books on their reading desks: on all this Thomas has turned his back to embrace instead devotional solitude.

Sassetta, Madonna della Neve, 1430-32, tempera on panel, 240×216 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The frame of Sassetta’s Madonna della Neve (Madonna of the Snow) altarpiece for a chapel in Siena’s Duomo (1430-2) has survived intact so that it is possible to understand Sassetta’s ingenuity and use of historical reference. The main picture plane brings together the Virgin and Child, angels and saints in a unified space marked off by a patterned carpet. This unity is emphasised by the poses, gestures and positions of the figures, while the upper part of the altarpiece harks back to the tripartite divisions of a Gothic polyptych and is framed accordingly. As for the frame itself, Sassetta introduced a unique cassetta-type moulding which frames the bottom and continues to four-fifths up the sides to fit it into its shallow niche in the Duomo.

Upper panel of Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1433–35, Tempera and gold on panel, 21.6x29.8 cm, Metropolitan Museum

Upper panel of Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1433–35,
Tempera and gold on panel, 21.6×29.8 cm, Metropolitan Museum

In his Adoration of the Magi (c. 1435), a painting that was sadly cut in two, the upper part shows a concentrated attention to landscape we will see again in the Borgo San Sepolcro polyptych. The cavalcade depicted here is typical of the international Gothic courtly style reminiscent of Gentile da Fabriano, whose majestic Adoration of the Magi in Florence Sassetta may have seen there, and who he must have met when Gentile visited Siena. Everyone in Sassetta’s procession is decked out in the most extravagant contemporary court dress and the two magpies are, as are the two tall birds on the crown of the hill diagonally opposite, beautifully observed. Yet all this finery moves through a wonderfully still and sparse winter landscape, among bare trees. The riders, led by the star suspended against the white hill, pick their way along a path of bright stones and pass the pink gate of Jerusalem – unmistakably Siena’s Porta Camollia with the tower raising above.

Sassetta’s challenges

When Sassetta accepted the commission for the San Francesco altarpiece in Borgo, the challenge the painter faced was two-fold: not only was he facing the architectural constraints imposed by the wooden structure on the altar which, his contract stipulates, he was to follow, but he also needed to find a visual equivalent for the “poetics of Franciscan spirituality” (as Keith Christiansen called it) within the constraints of the iconographic programme.

Sassetta’s professionalism asserted itself immediately when he refused to accept the existing wooden structure and insisted on having a replica made in Siena where he would have the necessary facilities in his workshop. None of the documents relating to the altarpiece suggest substantial alterations of the 1426 structure which he must have followed closely. It is therefore the original carpenter who may be credited with combining two different traditional altar types: a tall gothic polyptych and a 13th century Umbrian vita-retable. For the front, as stipulated in the contract, Di Segna’s altarpiece was taken as a model while for the back possibly an earlier dossal format was adapted, an early version of which is still preserved in Assisi, consisting of double narrative tiers in each lateral panel so that biographical episodes flank the figure of Saint Francis.

The first, simple vita or dossal retables, were adapted to existing altar widths. It is the subsequent rapid growth in height, and therefore of overall size and width that required support systems such as buttresses anchored in the pavement at each side of an altar. The earliest example of a buttressed altarpiece, and also a prime example of a later complex dossal retable was extremely well-known to Sassetta: Duccio’s Maestà in Siena’s Duomo.

Buttresses were initially an architectural device, invented by gothic architects to permit them to construct buildings of soaring heights. In the same way the buttressed altarpiece permitted much loftier compositions. At the height of this development, the great gothic altarpiece essentially resembled gothic cathedrals. In the same way the internal structural organisation of the polyptych frame came to resemble church architecture itself. The most eloquent surviving example in stone of this phenomenon is the marble polyptych on the high altar of San Francesco, Bologna: a veritable church within a church.

Pierpaolo and Jacobello della Masegne, high altar ensemble, 1388-1392, marble, approx. 521 cm wide, San Francesco, Bologna

Pierpaolo and Jacobello della Masegne, high altar, 1388-1392, marble, approx. 521 cm wide, San Francesco, Bologna

Sassetta who, as we have seen, was a master at adapting his style when a commission’s constraints demanded it, while harking back to revered older models, nevertheless asserted his “modernity” in the Borgo polyptych by adding Sienese refinement in its visual language and by applying richly gilded pastiglia (raised decorative patterns applied to wooden moldings) and polychromy to the framework. Emulating his great predecessors, Sassetta achieved a near-miraculous technical and artistic unity for his double-sided altarpiece, thereby rising triumphantly to the challenges of iconographic and structural constraint.

It is all the more deplorable that the frame for Sassetta’s double-sided altarpiece has suffered the fate of many altarpiece frames and has not survived. Reconstructions based upon the 1439 iconographic programme (the scripta) and the surviving twenty-seven (out of sixty) panels, give an indication of what it must have looked like in its mounted form on the altar of San Francesco. In the next post a closer look at the scripta and how Sassetta artistically interpreted the prescribed iconography as well as a discussion of some aspects of Sassetta’s painting technique.

Selected sources

  1. Enzo Carli: “Sassetta’s Borgo San Sepolcro Altarpiece”, The Burlington Magazine, 1951
  2. C. Gardner von Teuffel, “The Buttressed Altarpiece: a forgotten aspect of Tuscan fourteenth century altarpiece design”, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 1979
  3. Keith Christiansen et al, Painting in Renaissance Siena: 1420-1500, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988
  4. Henk van Os, Sienese Altarpieces 1215-1460, Groningen, 1988 and 1990
  5. Donal Cooper, “Franciscan Choir Enclosures and the Function of Double-Sided Altarpieces in Pre-Tridentine Umbria”, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 2001
  6. James Banker, The Culture of San Sepolcro during the Youth of Piero della Francesca, University of Michigan, 2003
  7. David Franklin, “A Contract Drawing for the Church of S. Francesco in Sansepolcro”, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 2004
  8. Machtelt Israëls, Sassetta’s Madonna della Neve, Leiden, 2003
  9. Machtelt Israëls et al, Sassetta, the Borgo San Sepolcro Altapiece, The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence, Leiden, 2009

Marie de’ Medici and Rembrandt’s Night Watch

Rembrandt's "Night Watch" in the Rijksmuseum, 1886. Photo: Rijksmuseum

Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” in the Rijksmuseum, 1886. Photo: Rijksmuseum

Countless books and articles have been written about Rembrandt’s Company of District II commanded by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq of 1642, known today as the Night Watch, but in spite of this its many complexities have still not been fully addressed or understood. I certainly do not pretend in any way to provide the ultimate answer. The painting has had mixed receptions in the past and even in the present: Ernst van de Wetering, at the time of the exhibition Rembrandt, Quest of a Genius in 2006, suggested that the painting was “an experiment gone wrong”, for example.

It was architect Pierre Cuypers who, in his design for the Rijksmuseum (1880s), elevated the painting to its present day status: by designing the museum as a cathedral of art with the Night Watch on its high altar the painting became a national symbol rather than a painting in its own right. It has become a “must see” but for reasons that would have been alien to Rembrandt and the civic guards portrayed in it.

Rembrandt's "Night Watch" in the Rijksmuseum today

Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” in the Rijksmuseum today

Following the two posts on the history of Amsterdam’s civic guards group portraits, I offer an opportunity to look at the Night Watch within an unusual context. What do the French Queen Marie de’ Medici and Rembrandt’s iconic civic guards painting have in common? At first glance, absolutely nothing of course. But what if the French Queen’s controversial 1638 visit to Amsterdam influenced both the commission and the composition of Rembrandt’s masterpiece? An investigation.

A new extension for the Kloveniers

The Kloveniers headquarters' old headquarter, by David David Vinckboons, 1599-1609, Rijksmuseum

The Kloveniers headquarters’ old building by David Vinckboons, 1599-1609, Rijksmuseum

In the first post on Amsterdam’s civic guards paintings, we left the Kloveniers (the riflemen’s civic guards company, so named after their rifle, the “klover”) in their cramped medieval tower Swijgh Utrecht with adjacent rickety annex overlooking the Amstel River while the other two companies, the Crossbowmen and the Longbowmen enjoyed the luxury of far grander headquarters on the Singel (the Voetboogdoelen and the Handboogdoelen). We saw that the city’s expansion between 1578 to 1665, which effectively meant an increase in population and, as the number of districts patrolled by the guards grew, an increasing number of civic guards, still divided over the three original companies. It is estimated that at the height of the civic guards, some 10,000 men were members of one of the three civic guard companies, but few of them had the means or the status to be immortalised in the companies’ group portraits. The Kloveniers headquarters soon became too cramped to accommodate its members and guests in any comfort and a grand extension was built next to the medieval tower, overlooking the Amstel River.

Isaac de Moucheron, Fireworks festivities for the reception of the Russian embassadors with Peter the Great, 29 Augustus 1697. Engraving by Isaac de Mouceron, Rijksmuseum. The Kloveniers' new extension is on tehe left with the old tower "Swijgh Utrecht" on its right. The Great Hall was on the first floor overlooking the river

Fireworks festivities for the reception of the Russian delegation with Peter the Great, 29 Augustus 1697. Engraving by Isaac de Moucheron, Rijksmuseum. The Kloveniers’ new extension is on the left with the old tower “Swijgh Utrecht” on its right. The Great Hall was on the first floor overlooking the river

I. Borsman, ground floor plan of the Kloveniers new building, 1713, City Archives, Amsterdam

I. Borsman, ground floor plan of the Kloveniers building, 1713, City Archives, Amsterdam

One of the theories concerning the date of origin of the Kloveniers extension is that its construction was triggered by Marie de’ Medici’s visit to Amsterdam in 1638. This theory dates the extension to 1638 or 1639 but there are indications that it was built at least a decade earlier. For instance, it appears that the city council, which was accustomed to holding official banquets at the Kloveniersdoelen on a regular basis, did not dine there between 1625 and 1627, an indication that the new extension may have been constructed during those years. Moreover, a document of 19 December 1630 refers to “the newly built quarters of the Doelen with vacant lots in front and behind” and the new building is also marked on a plan of 1627 for a new sewer for the hospital. It seems safe to assume, therefore, that the Kloveniers‘ new headquarters were completed in 1627. Additional, although circumstantial, proof of this is the fact that soon after its completion the old tradition of militia group portraits was revived with the commission of a group portrait from Thomas de Keyser (dated 1632). After all, to be able to commission large paintings, one needs room to hang them.

“La Rouïna Madre”

Marie de’ Medici (1573-1642), the exiled widow of King Henry IV of France, had no right to the grand reception that befell her in Amsterdam. Not for nothing did political circles in The Hague refer to her as La Rouïna Madre. As the literary critic Busken Huet phrased it in 1882:

She was a pathetically humiliated sovereign; a ruin of a body; a ruin of State, destitute and disreputable. That the Amsterdam patricians were proud to receive her – a queen mother, a Medici – was typical of their character.

But it was more than the character of Amsterdam’s patricians. The central government of the Republic in The Hague issued a directive stating that she should not be received at the country’s expense. Her presence in the Republic could endanger diplomatic relationships with France; after all Marie de’ Medici was incessantly plotting against Richelieu. That Amsterdam defied this directive was a downright act of defiance triggered by the city’s ruling regents being almost permanently at odds with the central government and the Stadtholders, as well as an assertion of civic pride and independence. As such Marie de’ Medici’s grand reception, without precedent since, for which no costs were spared (in all it cost the city 8000 guilders), contrasted sharply with the lukewarm reception that had befallen the Stadtholders Prince Maurits in 1618 and Prince Frederik Hendrik in 1628.

Marie de' Medici's ceremonial entry into Amsterdam, 31 August 1638, engraved by Pieter Nolpe after a design by Jan Martensz de Jonge, Rijksmuseum. Civic guardsmen and trumpeteers at Haarlemmerpoort

Marie de’ Medici’s ceremonial entry into Amsterdam, 31 August 1638, engraved by Pieter Nolpe after a design by Jan Martszen the Younger, Rijksmuseum. Civic guardsmen and trumpeters at Haarlemmerpoort

Marie de’ Medici’s visit to Amsterdam took place from 31 August to 5 September 1638 and the civic guards companies played a significant role in her ceremonial entrance to the city with a full complement of men taking part. It rained so hard that the Queen preferred to make her entry by carriage through Haarlemmerpoort rather than by boat as originally planned and consequently the civic guards, formed up beside the water, had to take up a new position along Nieuwendijk.

On several locations in the city temporary triumphal arches with theatrical stages on top had been erected, designed by the painter Claes Moeyaert. On these improvised stages, tableaux vivants were enacted. It is telling that in none of these tableaux vivants the central government in The Hague or the House of Orange were honoured; instead, there were homages to the Kings of France, the Medici of Florence who were after all businessmen just as Amsterdam’s ruling regents and the Habsburg Emperors who had awarded their “imperial crown” to Amsterdam in 1489, as well as mythological scenes alluding to the French Queen’s status.

This was not all: water pageants were staged in the harbour, there was a procession led by mounted trumpeters and a large temporary structure was erected on an artificial island in the Amstel River where more dramatic tableaux vivants were enacted once the Queen set foot on the floating island and entered its pavilion.

The artificial island with theatre on the Amstel River, engraved by Salomon Savery after a drawing by Simon de Vlieger, 1638, Rijksmuseum

The artificial island with theatre on the Amstel River, engraved by Salomon Savery after a drawing by Simon de Vlieger, 1638, Rijksmuseum

A luxurious commemorative book with elaborate engravings and bound in handsome leather entitled Medicea Hospes (etc.) (1638/9) was commissioned from the scholar Caspar Barlaeus in both a Latin and a French edition, which Rembrandt must have known. And of course, if he was not a member of one of the civic guards companies taking part in the ceremony (proof of his membership has never been found) he must have been among the many spectators and perhaps, upon coming home, made sketches of the spectacle he had witnessed from memory. The festivities were a euphoric celebration of Amsterdam’s independence for which the old Queen, a descendant of the ruling bankers family of that other merchant city-state, Florence, was merely the catalyst.

On her first evening in Amsterdam Marie de’ Medici was offered an Indonesian rice table by Burgomaster Albert Burgh. From him she bought the rosary that had belonged to Saint Francis Xavier, which had been captured in Brazil. Whether her portrait ascribed to Gerard van Honthorst was commissioned by Amsterdam’s burgomasters or by Marie herself is not clear (sources mention two portraits commissioned during her visit and it is not clear whether the portrait in the Amsterdam Museum is in fact Honthorst’s), but in it she proudly holds her purchase in her hand. Salomon Savery engraved a copy of the portrait for Barlaeus’ book and duly added the silhouette of Amsterdam in the background.

Marie de’ Medici and the Kloveniers’ Great Hall

During her visit the Queen took her meals at the Amsterdam Admiralty and there is no evidence that she visited the Kloveniers‘ grand new building which overlooked the Amstel River at its widest point. Her entourage, however, was ceremoniously received in the Kloveniers’ Great Hall on the first floor which was hung with borrowed tapestries for the occasion. The large group portraits that would decorate the hall were all painted in the years immediately following Marie de’ Medici’s visit, a reason to assume that Marie de’ Medici’s visit and the completion of the Great Hall of the Kloveniersdoelen (which, as we have seen, was completed a decade earlier) were the immediate causes of the commissioning of no less than six militia company portraits and one Governors’ portrait for the room, among which Rembrandt’s Night Watch.

The company of District XIX under command of Captain Cornelis Bicker, 1640, 343×258 cm, Rijksmuseum

Joachim von Sandrart, the Company of District XIX commanded by Captain Cornelis Bicker, 1640, 343×258 cm, Rijksmuseum

One portrait, the Company of District XIX commanded by Captain Cornelis Bicker by Joachim von Sandrart dating 1640, in fact contains a specific reference to the visit: the men’s focus of attention is a bust of Marie de’ Medici around which the company gather. In 1947 her prominence in the painting led Prof. Six to believe that her visit must have been the cause and the subject of the whole decorative scheme for the great hall, which is only partly true.

On 21 August 1641, a year after Von Sandrart’s painting’s completion, the diarist John Evelyn noted in his travel journal that he had seen a portrait of Marie de’ Medici in Amsterdam:

In the Doole, there is paynted a very large table Maria de Medices her statue to the breast supported by fower [sic] royal Diademes, the Worke of one Vandall [German], who hath set his name thereon. 1 sept. 1638. [the date of the Queen’s visit]

Reconstruction with Sandrart's painting (l), Flinck's Governors (c) and Flinck's civic guards (r)

Left to right: Sandrart’s painting, Flinck’s Governors and Flinck’s civic guards

The entry clearly relates to Sandrart’s painting although Evelyn does not say in which of three civic guards headquarters he saw it. The company of Cornelis Bicker originally belonged to the Crossbowmen civic guards but transferred to the Kloveniers at some unknown date, following a system of rotation that was a conscious attempt of the city’s magistrates to prevent the civic guards from establishing their own military and political power base in the city.

An indication that the painting originally hung in the Crossbowmen’s building on the Singel is the discovery during its restoration in 1984 that it had originally been conceived as a horizontal painting. At some time it had been cut down on the left and the right and a strip of about 34 centimeters was added at the top. The civic guards on the sections that were cut off were simply painted in again on the part that was left and the composition was adapted to its new format so that it now fitted in its new home in the Kloveniers‘ Great Hall between the windows on the Amstel River side and the chimney.

Sandrart’s painting was essentially the same height as Govert Flinck’s painting of the Company of District XVIII commanded by Captain Albert Bas of 1645 on the other side of the mantlepiece. The changes were not made by Sandrart himself and all the heads were retouched by the same unknown hand. It is likely that by the time the painting was altered Sandrart had left Amsterdam for good, which he did in about 1642, because although he does mention the painting in his Teutsche Academie of 1675, he says nothing about the drastic alterations.

Detail of Joachim von Sandrart's painting: the bust of Marie de' Medici with a crown lying beside and the slip of paper once containing Vondel's poem

Detail of Joachim von Sandrart’s painting: the bust of Marie de’ Medici with a crown lying beside and the slip of paper once containing Vondel’s poem

On a slip of paper under the bust of Marie de’ Medici in Sandrart’s painting was a poem by the great Amsterdam poet Vondel who would write many dedicatory verses for 17th century paintings. The text is now no longer legible, but it still was in 1758 when the painting was in Jan van Dyk‘s care at the town hall and he duly copied it:

The Corporalship of the Lord of Swieten. Painted by Sandrart.
The flag of Swieten awaits to herald Medicis
but for so great a soul the market is too small
and the eye of the citizens too weak for such rays
That sun of the Christian empire, is flesh, nor skin, nor bone
forgive Sandrart therefore that he makes her out of  Stone. Vondel

The Great Hall’s decorative scheme

Since no contemporary illustrations survive of the Great Hall of the Kloveniers as it was in the 1640s, one has to rely on eye-witness reports, however summarily, such as Schaep’s account of 1653 and ground plans giving the hall’s measurements on which a reconstruction could be based. Originally the hall had windows on both sides, but at an unknown time, presumably to accommodate the three large paintings commissioned for it, the wall on the street side was boarded up.

Part of the street side wall of the Great Hall against which the Night Watch hung, showing a bricked up window, discovered in 1974 during renovation works in the Doelen Hotel

Part of the street side wall of the Great Hall against which the Night Watch hung showing a bricked up window, discovered in the 1970s during renovation works at the Doelen Hotel

A reconstruction of the Great Hall of the Kloveniersdoelen c. 1642. From left to right: Rembrandt's Company of District II, Nicolaes Eliasz Pickenoy's Company of District IV, Jacob Backer's Company of District V, all dated 1642 and above the mantlepiece and door Bartholomeus van der Helst's Company of District VIII, 1643. Rijksmuseum

A reconstruction of the Great Hall of the Kloveniersdoelen c. 1642. From left to right: (1) Rembrandt’s Company of District II, (2) Nicolaes Eliaszn Pickenoy’s Company of District IV, (3) Jacob Backer’s Company of District V, all dated 1642 and above the mantlepiece and door (4) Bartholomeus van der Helst’s Company of District VIII, 1639 (?), Rijksmuseum

The placement of the paintings in the Great Hall was dictated by seniority (the year in which a company joined the Kloveniers) and was therefore fixed. Nevertheless the group portraits must have been conceived as a unified sequence of civic guards flowing from one painting to the next. For instance, in Jacob Backer’s civic guards painting (3) the men stand on a flight of steps leading up to the guards in Bartholomeus van der Helst’s painting (4), which hung above the door and the fireplace while the building on the right in Pickenoy’s painting (2) continues into Jacob Backer’s work (3).

It is known that Nicolaes Eliasz Pickenoy, Rembrandt’s neighbour on Breestraat, had a large enough studio to allow his civic guards paintings to be painted there so it is possible that Backer’s painting was also painted there. All three paintings (Pickenoy’s, Backer’s and Rembrandt’s) were finished in the same year, 1642, proof perhaps of a concerted unifying effort. But where Pickenoy and Backer, masterful as their paintings were, restricted themselves to the conventions of the traditional civic guards portrait in which all men are awarded the same attention (after all, each paid well to be included, expecting a reliable likeness), Rembrandt did something very different: in his Night Watch not the sitters but the action is the focus of attention and where other civic guards paintings are static, his is all about movement.

Although the link between Marie de’ Medici’s visit and the Night Watch had been observed before by scholars, it was Snoep (1974) who suggested that the architectural structure seen in the background of the Night Watch, more clearly visible in Gerrit Lundens’ small contemporary copy of the painting, could be the outside of the theatre gate built on Varkenssluis as seen in the design drawing by Jan Martszen the Younger for an engraving by Salomon Savery. Another detail in the print, the balustrade beside the canal, also recurs in the painting.

The idea has been rejected because Rembrandt did not copy the arch’s architecture literally, but when did he ever one might argue. He would interpret his print samples to suit his own purposes as he did his sketches of architectural structures. For instance, when he drew the Kloveniers building, he concentrated on the sturdy, plain medieval tower Swijgh Utrecht alone, which he perhaps envisaged as background for a history painting, also leaving out the tower’s pointed roof.

Rembrandt, the old part of the Kloveniers building with the tower "Swijgh Utrecht", drawing, c 1650-55, 166x235 mm, Rijksmuseum

Rembrandt, the tower “Swijgh Utrecht”, drawing, c 1650-55, 166×235 mm, Rijksmuseum

Although the Varkenssluis gate was not the theatre gate where Captain Banninck Cocq and his men were stationed (and at the time of the visit neither he nor his Lieutenant headed District II yet as in Rembrandt’s painting), that did not matter. It has been pointed out that the architectural structure in the Night Watch is not an actual gate because it does not allow light through it and, like the theatrical stage above the ceremonial gates in the engravings, it is enclosed at the back. Rembrandt thus combined both theatre and gate as one stage set against which he grouped his men.

Moreover, in uniting reality and fiction, present and past into one harmonious whole, Rembrandt showed respect for the age of the institution of the civic guards he was depicting. But this interpretation, his former pupil Samuel van Hoogstraten wrote in 1678, violated the golden rule of civic guard group portraits:

[…] in the opinion of many he made the large picture too much a work executed according to his own wishes than one of individual portraits which he was commissioned to do.

It should be noted that Van Hoogstraten most likely witnessed Rembrandt painting the Night Watch as he was studying with him at the time. He continues:

This work, no matter how much it can be censored, will survive all its competitors because it is so painter-like in thought, so dashing in movement, and so powerful that, according to some, all the other pieces there [in the Kloveniers’ headquarters] stand beside it like playing cards.

One cannot put it much more eloquently than this. The painting’s indirect allusion to the pageants staged during Marie de’ Medici’s visit must have been implicitly understood by the Kloveniers and the other paintings in the Great Hall in their own way, painted so soon after the event, must have been understood in a similar vein.

Rembrandt, the Company of District II under Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, 1642, size today 379.5x453.5 cm, Rijksmuseum

Rembrandt, the Company of District II commanded by Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, 1642, size today 379.5×453.5 cm, Rijksmuseum

The end of the genre

What Rembrandt’s Night Watch and the other civic guards paintings in the Kloveniers’ Great Hall have in common is an allusion, albeit an indirect one, to the French Queen’s visit to Amsterdam only a few years previously. No other painter ever followed Rembrandt’s revolutionary innovation, a concentration on movement and action rather than on individual portraiture, but there was a practical reason rather than an artistic one for this: with the great last blossoming of the genre which saw civic paintings the scale of which was unheard of at the time and never seen again in Dutch art, the civic guards headquarters’ walls were simply full. As a final irony, La Rouïna Madre, Marie de’ Medici, whose controversial visit indirectly triggered the last upsurge of Amsterdam’s great civic guards portraits, died in the same year in which Rembrandt’s masterpiece was completed: 1642.

In the next post a more detailed discussion of the Night Watch, an encounter with some of the men portrayed in it and some disconcerting conclusions about what is left of it today.

Selected sources:

  1. C. Barlaeus, Medicea hospes, sive descriptio publicae gratulationis qua…Mariam de Medicis, excepit senatus populusque Amstelodamensis, 1638/9
  2. Samuel van Hoogstraten, Inleyding tot de Hooge Schoole der Schilderkonst, 1678
  3. Jan van Dyk, Kunst- en historie-kundige beschryving van alle de schilderyen op het stadhuis van Amsterdam, 1758
  4. P. Scheltema, “De Schilderijen in de Drie Doelen te Amsterdam, beschreven door G. Schaep, 1653″, Amstel’s Oudheid, 1885
  5. M. Kok, “Rembrandt’s Nachtwacht: van Feeststoet tot Schuttersstuk”, Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, 1967
  6. D. Snoep, Praal en propaganda. Triumfalia in de Noordelijke Nederlanden in de 16e en 17e eeuw, 1974
  7. E. Haverkamp-Begemann, Rembrandt: The Nightwatch, 1982
  8. E. van de Wetering (et al.), Rembrandt, Quest of a Genius, 2006
  9. S.A.C. Dudok van Heel, “The Night Watch and the Entry of Marie de’ Medici”, Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, 2009

Zest for life: The Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet (2) – the prints

Apart from a few woodcuts ascribed to him (although far from unanimously) the surviving prints by the 15th century Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet are executed in drypoint. They are tentatively dated between 1470 and 1490. The 91 prints known today, of which 78 are listed as unique impressions, formed part of the collection of Pieter Cornelis, Baron van Leyden (1717-1788). Nothing is known about their provenance prior to the 18th century. Today, 82 prints are held by the Rijksmuseum which is why, in spite of the likely German origins of the Master, he is also known as the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet.

Drypoint technique – advantages and limitations

1. Blades of grass, detail from “Fighting Peasants”, Rijksmuseum

The Master in all probability used a soft metal plate such as tin which allows the burin to be more easily and sketchily pushed through the plate’s surface. The burin digs a furrow in the plate turning up curls of metal on either side of the engraved furrow. These curls, known as the burr, hold a quantity of ink and create a rich velvety or blurred effect when printed (fig 1). The burr wears away after only a few impressions which could be the reason why so few of the Master’s prints have survived and so many of those exist as unique impressions.

Early prints

The Master’s early prints are characterised by their small size. Lines are rather hesitantly drawn and the images show simple compositions that are mostly restricted to one or two figures. The prints are nevertheless surprisingly original as shown in three small prints depicting children at play, two of which are illustrated below (figs 2 and 3).

With great tenderness and humour the Master depicts the toddlers as they discover the world around them. Standing on your head, trying to get up while holding a toy, crossing your legs; the first experiences of a small child. They may have served as models for marginalia in illuminated manuscripts which seems to be corroborated by their small size. An example would be a delightful depiction in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves of the Christ Child and St John playing together as children (fig 4).

4. Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440, Pierpont Morgan Library

Stylistic developments

The Master’s style evolved from its hesitant beginnings into a style showing a larger format and more careful hatchings. One of his most surprising and original prints is that of a young hunting dog scratching himself (fig 5). Again, the only parallel would be marginalia where such free and playful images are often found, although the print’s relatively large format indicates that the image probably did not serve as a model for a miniaturist. It is a strikingly realistic portrayal: the dog is so well observed, his fur and his pose so convincingly rendered that there can be little doubt that the Master depicted him from life. Only years later, when Albrecht Dürer began to draw animals, do we find such detailed and natural depictions.

5. Unique impression (ca. 1475), 11.3 x 11.2 cm, Rijksmuseum.

Saint Martin on horseback (fig 6) can also be placed within the artist’s middle period. Certain similarities in clothing and in the way the cross-hatchings have been executed indicate that the Master could have been familiar with Martin Schongauer’s slightly earlier version (fig 7). In Schongauer’s print the saint shares his mantle with a beggar who functions as an attribute of the Saint rather than as a participant in the drama. The Master is more successful in integrating the beggar into the story and in establishing an emotional relationship between him and the Saint.

The “court period”

Gradually, we see a development towards a stronger spatial suggestion, more refinement and a more confident execution as well as more complex compositions. The Master reached his artistic peak in prints where he worked with a very fine hard-pointed needle, especially in his renderings of courtly life. As we have seen in the previous post, the court of Frederick III in the German Middle-Rhine region is thought to have been the environment where the Master may have worked, at least for some time. An intriguing print is The Card Players (fig 8).

8. The Card Players (ca. 1485), 13 x 12 cm, Rijksmuseum

A pretty young woman is surrounded by three young men dressed in the latest court fashion. She has just played her trump card. The expressions on the young men’s faces show how much she has beguiled them. Images of (prospective) lovers playing games are not unusual in this period and are usually placed in a garden of love setting. The Master gives an original twist to the theme by predicting the outcome of the game: we see a love couple disappearing into the forest on horseback. But who will she choose? She allows one of the young men to see her remaining cards, but the fool is looking over his shoulder – has he been dealt the Fool? Observe also the two dogs, symbols of fidelity: one sits upright and is alert, the other lies fast asleep at the woman’s feet. It seems this card game could go either way.

A comparison of two hunting scenes shows how the master’s style further developed. The first is still related to the court environment. In Departure for the Hunt (fig 9) a fashionably dressed aristocratic group of men and women are preparing to go on a hunting party.

9. Detail: Departure for the hunt (ca. 1485-90), 12.5 x 9.2 cm, Rijksmuseum

Judging by the wreaths around their heads two participants are engaged. The hunt was traditionally associated with courtly love and in contemporary literature serves as a metaphor for a lover conquering his beloved. Fidelity and perseverance play an important role.

Several years later, another hunting scene print by the Master seems removed from courtly ideals. The deer hunt (fig 11) is one of the earliest and most surprising depictions of outdoor life, chronologically preceded by marginalia such as a hunting scene in the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves (fig 10).

10. Hunting scene, Hours of Catherine of Cleves, ca. 1440, Pierpont Morgan Library

11 The Deer Hunt (ca. 1485-90), 9.3 x 8.3 cm, Rijksmuseum

In the Master’s print, light and dark contrasts play an important part in suggesting space and distance. Blowing the horn signals the start of the hunt, the dogs are running after deer fleeing into the forest and a rabbit runs away on the right, a humourous touch. While the aristocratic group in Departure for the Hunt is more interested in each other than in the hunt, here a realistic hunt is depicted. Elements such as the dead tree with the crow’s nest, the grave along the roadside and the lonely traveller seen in the background are possibly meant as reminders of death, man’s constant companion in life: a memento mori.

The Master’s sense of humour and originality is evident in various prints showing heraldic shields (fig 12). Their precise meaning is unclear. In the 15th century social positions were shifting and heraldic shields were no longer the exclusive privilege of the nobility: rich citizens could consolidate their status by means of a family weapon. But instead of angels or lions we are presented with farmers and gipsies as supporters. The irony with which some figures are depicted points to the prints possibly being intended as satires on the aristocratic pretences of common citizens.

12. Heraldic shield with farmers (ca. 1485-90), 13.7 x 8.4 cm, Rijksmuseum

A farmer standing on his head is seen from behind. He leans his hands on two pieces of rock. The shield’s helmet is crowned by a farmer who is literally crushed by the weight of his wife sitting on his back. Although he screams in protest it doesn’t help him and she has found a way to make him assist her as she spins her yarn. The meaning is clear: just as the man standing on his head gets a distorted view of the world, the farmer and his wife represent the normal social order turned upside down.

Late period

A new element is the greater freedom with which the late prints are executed. Lines become more nervous and energetic. The two versions of Saint Christopher, the first executed in his riper style and the later version interpreted with greater artistic freedom, are our final examples.

The story of Saint Christopher is told in the 13th century Legenda Aurea (Golden Legend). He is a giant who carries travellers across a turbulent river. One night a child asks to be carried across. Lit by a hermit’s lantern they reach the other side of the river but with great difficulty because the child is none other than Christ, who “carries all the burdens of the world” and becomes heavier with every step. Only the next day does Christopher realise the true identity of his passenger when his staff, planted in the earth at the request of the child, sprouts into a date palm. In a 14th century German manuscript green leaves already sprout from the staff while Christopher and the child are crossing the river as shown in the Master’s print.

15. Israhel van Meckenem, copy in reverse, engraving, 16.2 x 10.5 cm, British Museum

The first version by the Master, called the “large version” (fig 13), is possibly loosely based on an earlier print by Schongauer (fig 14), but more convincing in that the weight of the child is more effectively distributed over the staff and the giant’s legs. How difficult it is for Christopher to keep his balance is illustrated by a wonderful detail: the Saint has wrapped his hand in his mantle to secure his grip on his staff. The print was apparently popular as can be seen from a slighty later copy by Israhel van Meckenem (fig 15).

The irises, symbols of Christ’s suffering, seen in the foreground in Schongauer’s print, only appear in the second version by the Master which is tentatively dated ca. 1490 and executed in his late style (fig 16). The world’s burdens carried by the Christ Child are symbolised by the globe he carries, the church points to Christopher’s servitude to Christ and the giant himself is dressed as a pilgrim. The regular hatchings influenced by Schongauer seen in the earlier version here make way for a lively, more dynamic treatment of light and shadow. The water, while imaginatively indicative of movement in the earlier print, in the second print is verging on the abstract.

16. St Christopher “small version”, unique impression (ca. 1490), 12.3 x 7.2 cm

A Master without an identity

Several of the Master’s prints were copied by contemporary artists and some are thought to have influenced the young Dürer, yet his name has not come down to us. An explanation could lie in his association with the nobility which appears so clearly from the self-assured way in which the Master depicts their interests and ideals. He must have worked closely with one or several aristocratic patrons and for his altarpieces with the highest church authorities. As their protégé the artist enjoyed a secure position and livelihood – a luxury Dürer never knew – and it was therefore unnecessary for his name to be known outside these circles. But this means, alas, that the Master’s name was lost forever when his last patron died.


  1. All prints shown in this post are by the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet unless stated otherwise.
  2. The most helpful study for the chronological and stylistic grouping of the prints remains the article by Curt Glaser, “Zur Zeitbestimmung der Stiche des Hausbuchmeisters”, in Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft 3 (1910).
  3. I am indebted to the catalogue of the 1985 exhibition in the Rijksmuseum’s Prints and Drawings Gallery: ‘s Leven’s Felheid: de Meester van het Amsterdamse Kabinet of de Hausbuch-meester, ca. 1470-1500, K.G. Boon et al, published by Uitgeverij Gary Schwartz, Maarssen for the Rijksmuseum, 1985.