Art Stories

Discover entertaining essays on a wide variety of artworks from our extensive collections in the section Art Stories.


Joos van Cleve, Triptych, c. 1530, KHM, Inv. No. GG 938

A sumptuous background of gold was yesterday. Today, a varied landscape—both nobler and stimulating curiosity—more commonly serves as the setting. Gold’s lustre symbolized divine light, but things are more realistic nowadays: one can make out mountains, meadows, cities, rivers, forests and trees, people and animals.

A greyish, waist-high brick wall creates a feeling of security. Upon this wall rest fantastical architectural elements. The sides of this structure fall away into ruins, but that just underscores their Biblical antiquity.

In my honour a costly baldachin has been spanned above my throne. And my fur-lined red cape highlights me and my role.

We, Jesus and I, sit beneath a star-filled sky.

Joseph and the others have to make do with wooden kneelers. Still they are not poorly attired. To my right: Joseph, my protector, and Jesus’ foster father.

As you know, our relationship is somewhat formal.

The sandal that he has slipped off his right foot alludes to the sanctity of our encounters, not the opposite.

On either wing of my altarpiece two prominent saints stand protectively behind the unknown patrons of this work of art.

George is obliging in his attire, always easy to identify by his armour. On the wing opposite stands Catharine, who conceals well the symbol that identifies her.

Can you find the wheel?

Why are these two saints here with me? One possible, if somewhat simple explanation:
the names of the two patrons who commissioned the work were George and Catherine.

You may take the dog that has curled up on the woman’s black gown as a symbol of faithfulness and vigilance, and of course it is a delightful, lively portrayal.

written by Cäcilia Bischoff, translated by Joshua Stein on 12.6.2017 in #I am Mary
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