Published: November 20, 2007
The Yale University Art Gallery has announced its acquisition, through partial gift/ partial purchase, of two of the six extant panels from a major altarpiece by the Meister der Heiligen Sippe (Master of the Holy Kinship), the last great painter of the Cologne School, active in northern Germany between 1475 and 1510.
The two panels, each of which depicts two saints (Saints James the Greater and John the Evangelist in the first panel and Saints James the Lesser and Philip in the second panel), had been the property of the prominent Munich art firm A.S. Drey before a forced sale in 1936, when the firm’s premises and stock were “Aryanized” by the Nazi regime. The panels were offered to Yale by Robert and Virginia Stern, heirs of the Stern Drey family, following their restitution by the Prussian State Collections in 2003. The paintings were donated in honor of all the families in Europe who were dispossessed during the Holocaust period 1933 to 1945.
The two panels, which are in excellent condition, are the earliest examples of German painting to enter the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery and are the gallery’s only examples of painting from the Master of the Holy Kinship. They are from an altarpiece that originally portrayed the 12 apostles in six panels flanking a central panel showing Christ and the Virgin Enthroned. Each side panel is oil on wood and measures approximately 19 by 13 inches.
In the first panel, Saint James the Greater is identified by his pilgrim staff and the cockle shell pinned to his hat. Saint John is portrayed as a young man blessing a chalice. Judging from the positions of the two saints’ bodies, and particularly their feet, this panel originally stood on the left side of the altarpiece, probably situated immediately alongside the central image of Christ and the Virgin. The second panel is likely to have stood at the right end of the altarpiece.
Although the original location of the altarpiece and the circumstances of its commission are unknown, it has been dated by a consensus of scholars to the opening years of the Sixteenth Century. The gallery is the only institution to have more than one panel from the altarpiece.
The center panel is now in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, Germany; one panel is in the John G. Johnson collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Saints Peter and Andrew); one in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Saints Matthew and Thomas); and one in the Heinz Kisters collection at Kreuzlingen, Germany (Saints Simon and Jude). A last panel, formerly in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Magdeburg, Germany (Saints Bartholomew and Matthias), was destroyed in World War II.
Before World War II, they were acquired by Karl Lemke (the last patron of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe before the architect’s flight from Germany) at the forced sale, and donated by his widow to the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin in 1984. After restoration, Robert and Virginia Stern offered them to Yale in an effort to keep them accessible to the public and in the hope that they will be actively used by students.
Yale University Art Gallery is at 1111 Chapel Street, at York Street. For information, http://artgallery.yale.edu or 203-432-0600.
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