UPPER RHENISH MASTER (ACTIVE AROUND 1410/20)
Little Garden of Paradise
Oil (and termpera?) on oak
Inv. No. HM 54 (On permanent loan since 1922 from the Historisches Museum Frankfurt a. M.)
26.3 × 33.4 cm
In the Städel’s most famous painting of the Old German school, the courtly charm of the Late Gothic “Soft Style” is combined with realistic observation of nature: Twenty-four plants and twelve species of birds can be identified. Hoopoe and golden oriole, tomtit and spotted woodpecker cavort among peonies and columbine, strawberries and lilies of the valley. The trees of life and knowledge border the enclosed garden in which the elements of cosmic symbolism are united, down to the devil in the form of a monkey and the slain dragon of evil. The Virgin Mary has seated herself on a grassy bench. Atypically, she has time to read, since one of the saints who surround her is making music with the Christ Child. To the right, a choir of saints raise their voices in song. Whereas the male figures are identifiable with the aid of attributes such as St. George’s dragon, the women remain anonymous. Apparently, the artist consciously combined the secular themes of the garden of love and courtly companies with the sacred, symbolic iconography of Paradise – surely in accordance with the wishes of the patrons, possibly nuns of an Alsatian or Upper Rhenish convent.