« PreviousContinue »
carving of the late Gothic period, the Kensington group, by whomever executed, is unsurpassed, and must be ranked among the masterpieces of the art. The figures are human beings, portraits, it may be said perhaps, from life models. The drapery no longer conceals the admirably posed figure and arms of the seated woman, and though we may regret the still somewhat tormented folds falling in veil-like form from the headdress, yet even these are masterpieces in that particular style. And above all to be remarked are the clean sharp-cut handling and precision of the chisel, the understanding and right use of the material, absolutely to be distinguished in this case from the technique of stone sculpture, and the wonderful treatment of the hands of St. Anne, to which, in wood, for their art, I can only compare those of the Niirnberg Madonna.
Comparisons have been made between this figure and the stone monument of the Countess Dorothea von Wertheim by Riemenschneider. There are analogies, it is true, in the form of headdress and in the drapery folds, but nothing could be less convincing by way of proof of the identity of the sculptor than the general feeling. The designer of the one, great as he might be according to older traditions, is still wedded to convention, with no sign that he has yet taken advantage of the new realism. The other has worked straight from nature. The question is, are they or can they be the same man?
A work more definitely characteristic of Riemenschneider's style, and in some ways a finer piece than the Creglingen retable, is the one known as the altar of the Precious Blood in the church of St. James at Rothenburg, in the Tauber valley (Plate x.). We need take the central group of figures alone—they are those of Our Lord and the Apostles at the Last Supper—and compare them, for example, with the twelve apostles of the Munich Museum. They are a little less than life size, very fine indeed in composition and in technical execution, and far outweigh in importance the low reliefs on the wings and the long spiny pinnacle work and other ornament characteristic of late German Gothic. Although of a different character from the scenic grouping of Flemish retables, the arrangement has a certain dramatic force, the naturalistic figures seemingly engaged in an animated conversation with Our Lord and with each other. There is an earnest solemnity in the figures of these men, all with that family likeness already remarked upon, the somewhat too large heads, the flowing curly hair, and all, except four, bearded. There is but one of a different type: a rounder, fuller, shaven face. The middle figure, standing in the foreground, and carrying a purse, of course is Judas. The exposed parts of the figures—the hands and feet—are of the best style, the draperies of soft thin stuffs, of the prevailing type and not exaggerated. In its intense naturalism this fine altarpiece may indeed be called truly representative of German work of the kind, of southern German or Suabian origin. From documentary evidence it may be confidently assigned to Riemenschneider, and we can be well content to accept it as an example of the best work of this class of his school. At the same time, in several other cases, there is no obligation to go further.
Still without positive authentication, and yet of even more value in the endeavour to lay down a type in which we may reasonably recognize the style of Riemenschneider not only as the wood was left by the chisel, but also with the full addition of colour and gilding, is a charming shrine with predella, in the Munich Museum (No. 1330), (Plate x1.). In the centre are three nearly life-sized statuettes, the Blessed Virgin, St. John the Baptist, and St. Sebastian. It is, of course, of no particular consequence that we