Mourners and Soldiers beneath the Cross

ca. 1425-30

Pen and brush drawing in black and greyish brown ink, with a grey wash
Inv. No. 6976

15.2 × 23.2 cm

zur  Biographie

The »Master of the Worcester Bearing of the Cross« is so called after the one painting definitively attributed to him, a Bearing of the Cross from the Worcester Collection (now in the Art Institute of Chicago). Little is known about him aside from the assumption that he was active in Southern Germany, possibly in Regensburg, around 140/30. He was a notably innovative artist nevertheless, whose influence can be discerned in a good many works of that period and region.


Of the small number of drawings attributed to this master, most are thought to be workshop productions; probably only two are by his own hand. The drawing in the possession of the Städel Museum is one of those two, and shows, to moving effect, the distinctive characteristics and particular creative power of this artist. It depicts two groups of figures designed to form part of a larger »Calvary« composition. On the left, two female saints and St. John the Apostle have come to the aid of the Virgin Mary, who has fallen down in a faint, while on the right three soldiers or executioners turn, with mocking and disdainful expressions, towards Christ on the cross, whom we have to imagine as a continuation of the composition.


After first outlining the figures with a pen, the artist elaborated on them by applying washes of varying darkness with a brush. The group of mourners is executed both more delicately and more simply than the three soldiers, who are not only festooned or otherwise equipped with fashionable accoutrements but also exhibit greater contrast and physicality. Their coarse grimaces are reinforced by their extravagant postures, most notably in the case of the figure towards the front, who has his head tilted back and his tongue sticking out. By the most economical of means, the artist succeeds in setting off grief and suffering against brutality and malice, so that the drama of the Passion is reflected in human emotions. The art of the »Master of the Worcester Bearing of the Cross« has its roots in the stylized forms of the »Soft Style«, but it infuses the latter with a new shift towards realism.

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