This depiction of the Holy Trinity, part of an untraced altarpiece, belongs to an iconographic type known as The Throne of Mercy (Gnadenstuhl in German), common in Romanesque, Gothic and later art. The unidentified donor, depicted at lower left in an attitude of veneration for the Trinity, is dressed and tonsured as a deacon. The inclusion of Saints Stephen and Lawrence, the two chief deacon saints, also refers to his clerical status. Holding the stones which were the instrument of his punishment, Saint Stephen glances down at the donor with a look of approval. The scroll rising from the head of the donor bears a Latin inscription, which can be translated 'O child-bearing virgin, noble martyrs, I desire with pious prayers to be offered to the incomprehensible Trinity'. The textual source of this line has not been identified, and it is not impossible that it was a prayer composed specifically as an appropriate legend for this votive picture.
On stylistic grounds, the picture is datable to the period circa 1480-1485. This is confirmed by the inscription, which bears a date encoded in the letters picked out in red, giving the following Roman numerals:
M = 1000
CCCC = 400
L = 50
VVV = 15
IIIIIIIIIIIIII = 14
The sum of these cryptic ciphers is 1479, making this a rare example of a Late Gothic work dated to a precise year.
We are grateful to Ludwig Meyer for proposing either Ulm or Nördlingen as the potential points of origin for this work. Ulm in particular was one of the high capitals of Late Gothic art, a centre for the production of large altarpieces and the home of numerous artists, amongst them the best masters in Swabia.