• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7610

    Important Old Master & British Pictures Day Sale Including Property From The Collection Of The Princely House Of Liechtenstein

    9 July 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 256

    Attributed to the Master of the Heisterbach Altar (Cologne, active c. 1440-1450)

    The Crucifixion: A panel from an altarpiece

    Price Realised  


    Attributed to the Master of the Heisterbach Altar (Cologne, active c. 1440-1450)
    The Crucifixion: A panel from an altarpiece
    oil and gold on panel, shaped top
    37¾ x 36 in. (97.9 x 91.4 cm.)

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    The continuous narrative presented by this work skilfully sets up a striking spatial and temporal symmetry. Christ is depicted being disrobed by a soldier on the left, and crucified in the centre; on the left, Saint Joseph of Arimathea stands waiting patiently with the cloth into which Christ will be wrapped after the Deposition. While this thoughtful and elegant composition functions remarkably well as an isolated work, the picture was once the central panel of a large and complex altarpiece illustrating a total of 28 scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin, and the martyrdom of the Apostles. Only 13 other panels are known to survive:

    The Annunciation, whereabouts unknown, photo in the Rheinisches Bildarchiv, neg. no. 11384.
    The Adoration of the Magi, Bonn, Rheinisches Landesmuseum.
    The Virgin adoring the Infant Jesus, Munich, Alte Pinakothek.
    The Presentation in the Temple, Munich, Alte Pinakothek.
    The Agony in the Garden, Munich, Alte Pinakothek.
    The Betrayal of Christ, Wiesbaden, Gemäldegalerie.
    The Flagellation, Kisters collection, Kreuzlingen.
    Christ carrying the Cross, formerly Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum.
    Pontius Pilate washing his hands, formerly Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum.
    The Ascension of Christ, Kisters collection, Kreuzlingen.
    Pentecost, Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum.
    The Dormition of the Virgin, Munich, Alte Pinakothek.
    The Coronation of the Virgin, Munich, alte Pinakothek.

    Some of the panels have scenes of the martyrdom of Apostles on the reverse; for example, Pentecost shows The Martyrdom of Saint John the Evangelist.

    Varying reconstructions have been proposed, first by Stange in 1967 (see op. cit., and later by Goldberg and Scheffler in 1972 (see op. cit). Both reconstructions place the present picture as the central panel of the altarpiece, with the difference that Stange's reconsctruction requires it to have been 115 by 115 cm, and subsequently cut down; Goldberg and Scheffler's reconstruction, however, is supported by Zehnger (see op. cit.) as being more plausible.

    The attribution history for the altar is complex, and has generated an extensive literature. All sources agree that all the panels were painted by the same workshop, a Cologne enterprise of the mid 15th Century. While a number of hands can be distinquished, the uniform overall style suggests the guidance of a single, highly-talented artist. This anonymous artist is called The Master of the Heisterbach Altar, a work painted for the Cistercian Abbey Church at Heisterbach, Siebengebirge (south of Cologne); some panels of this name piece survive in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne and the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. The art of Stefan Locher clearly exerted a strong influence on the style of The Master of the Heisterbach Altar, and indeed Passavant attributed the altar to the School of Stefan Locher in 1833. Another early attribution has been to Meister Wilhelm (Marggraff, 1869 and 1879). Aldenhoven (1902, see loc. cit), Thieme-Becker (1950) and Stange (1952, see loc. cit.) have all given the altar to the Workshop of The Master of the Heisterbach Altar; Stange later (1967, see loc. cit.) became the first to give it to The Master himself. Goldberg and Scheffler 1972, loc. cit.) gave it to a Cologne master, active in the mid 15th Century, influenced by Lochner and The Master of the Heisterbach Altar; Zehnder (1990, loc. cit.) gave it to an artist working in the style of The Master of the Heisterbach Altar; and Dagmar Regina Täbe (1884, loc. cit.) to various hands, including both The Master of the Heisterbach Altar, other artists working in his style and a less dependent Cologne master, all circa 1450.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    (Probably) B.J. Blasius Alfter (d. 1808); (possibly) the Cistercian Abbey at Alfter, near Bonn;
    Boisserée, by whom bought in 1809 from 'Alfter'.
    Johann Georg Schmitz; (+) Cologne. Heberle, 21 September 1846, lot 8.
    Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, inv. no. WRM 76, de-accessioned in 1926.
    with Paul Drey, New York.
    Mr. and Mrs. Fielding Lewis Marshall; Bonham's, London, 28 March 1974, lot 82.
    Private collection.

    Pre-Lot Text



    C. Aldenhoven, Geschichte der Kölner Malerschule, Lübeck, 1902, pp. 162ff.
    E. Firmenich-Richartz, in U. Thieme, F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künste, Leipzig, 1911, V, pp. 154ff.
    E. Firmenrich-Richartz, Die Brüder Boisserée, Jena, 1916, pp. 35, 57 and 452-5.
    H. Reiners, Die Kölner Malschule, Munich, 1925, pp. 96 and 309.
    Museum Quarterly, Denver, Winter 1950, p. 9, illustrated.
    A. Stange, Deutsche Malerei der Gotik, Berlin, 1952, V.
    A. Stange, Kritisches Verzeichnis der deutschen Tafelbilder von Dürer, Munich, 1967, I, pp. 46ff.
    G. Goldberg and G. Scheffler, Gemäldekataloge, XIV, Altdeutsche Gemälde, Köln und Nordwestdeutschland, Munich, 1972, pp. 145-162.
    F.G. Zehnder, Katalog der Altkölner Malerei, Cologne, 1990, pp.458-462.
    D.R. Täube, in Stefan Lochner, Meister zu Köln, exhibition catalogue, 1993, p. 344, no. 55.


    Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Arts of the Middle Ages, 1940, no. 78, as by The Master of the Heisterbach Altar.
    Denver, Denver Art Museum, Art of the Middle Ages, 1950-51, as by The Master of the Heisterbach Altar.
    London, Sotheby's, Exhibition of the Marshall Collection, 31 December 1973-8 January 1974, no. 51.