The Virgin and Child in a Courtyard is an exquisite example of the late Gothic ‘international’ style, a sensibility characterised by a sweetness of mood and a gentle, devotional character.
Schongauer portrays a demure Mary, seated with the Christ Child on her lap, in a walled courtyard. Her seated position and modest demeanour cast her in the iconographical tradition of the Madonna of Humility. The walled garden or hortus conclusus symbolises her purity, derived from the verse in the Song of Solomon: 'A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed’. The leafless tree, which also appears in The Virgin and Child on a Grassy Bench (lot 5), is perhaps a sign of the child’s future Passion, referencing Galatians 3:13 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree’.
The charm of the engraving lies in its formal simplicity and tender sentiment. The ornate arrangement of Mary’s robe, which flows around her in a decorative filigree of folds and twists, is typical of the Gothic tradition. However, the use of perspective in the courtyard to create a convincing three dimensional space, as well as a greater degree of naturalism in the human pair, reveal Schongauer as an artist on the cusp of the Renaissance.
Lothar Schmitt and Nicholas Stogdon record a total of 29 impressions of this print, of which 28 are in public collections. Impressions in private hands are of the utmost rarity - the present, unrecorded impression, is only the third to be offered at auction in the last three decades.