Nüremburg Master circa 1518
AN EPITAPH FOR KATHARINA HELD OF NUREMBURG: THE CRUCIFIXION WITH THE DONOR SIGMUND HELD AND HIS FAMILY BELOW
oil and gold on panel
120.5 by 97 cm.; 47 3/8 by 38 1/4 in.In this painting. Only recently revealed following cleaning, the donors in this painting can be identified by their coats of arms as Sigmund Held, called Hagelsheimer (d. 1558) of Nüremburg, and his first wife Katharina Unbehauen, together with their children. The painting can most likely be dated to around 1518, the year of Katharina’s death, and was undoubtedly intended as her epitaph or Gedächtnistafel. As her death is recorded in the register or Totengeläutbuch of the church of St. Sebald in Nüremburg, it is highly likely that the epitaph was originally placed there.
Both donors are shown with their name saints – Saint Sigismund and Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The Held family had been prominent merchants in Nüremburg since the fourteenth century and had served as magistrates and upon the City Council.
The design of the present panel was clearly inspired by the graphic work of Martin Schongauer (1448–91). The figure of the Magdalene, for example, derives from the latter’s engraving Noli me tangere of circa 1480–90. Other elements of the design, such as the billowing loincloth of Christ, the Virgin with her hands crossed at her breast, Saint John holding a book, and even the skull and bones at the foot of the cross are modelled on Schongauer’s engraving of The Crucifixion of around 1475. The retardataire nature of its design – the facture of this panel seems consistent throughout and its composition was more likely conceived at the express wish of the patron.