Tempera on panel
82 x 64,5 cm

Aragon, mid-15th century

Provenance: Paris, Galerie Charpentier (1958).

Bibliography: Alcoy 2004, p. 151, n. 221; Macías 2010, pp. 51-53, fig. 11; Macías 2013, p. 369, fig. 254.

The panel we are studying here depicting the Epiphany belonged to a Marian altarpiece that has since been broken up and of which we know of four further compartments: an Annunciation (67.3 x 58.8 cm) and Nativity (65 x 58.8 cm) from Montreal’s Musée des Beaux-Arts (inv. 1972.2 and 1972.3); a Resurrection of Christ (78.7 x 63.2 cm), from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (inv. 982.60.40); and an Ascension of Christ (83 x 64.5 cm), housed today in Seville’s Museo de Bellas Artes[1]. All of their measurements[2], gilt work and style confirm that they belonged to the same altarpiece, which must have been broken up at the end of the 19th century. Given the Epiphany was the property of the Galerie Charpentier in Paris in 1958[3], and that the Resurrection also came on the French art market in 1901[4], one might posit the hypothetical appearance of all the works on the French market, where the original altarpiece, or part of it, must have arrived from the Aragon region. It would be wise not to rule out the future appearance of further panels from the ensemble, joining those we know of today.

The Epiphany was briefly mentioned by Alcoy in 2004, while it was Macías who linked it to the rest of the scattered compartments from the Marian altarpiece[5]. The scene depicted is an interesting composition in which the Magi appear offering their gifts to the Virgin and Child. Melchior, the oldest of the three, is pictured conducting his characteristic proskynesis, and has left his crown and turban on the ground in a gesture of respect for the Son of God. The youngest of the three kings is holding a curious piece of stalked metalwork in the form of wading bird (a flamingo, perhaps?), while Melchior’s gift is being held by St. Joseph, who is portrayed with a polygonal nimbus and is sat on a three-legged stool, in accordance with the iconography that was common in Northern Europe. It is worth noting the structure of the stable, which takes the form of a dome towards the top where its outline meets the gold background of the upper part of the compartment. Inside, the most prominent feature is a chimney, lending the composition an anecdotal touch which was uncommon in Hispanic painting at that time. The presence of this element is also found in the Nativity panel, whose composition is extremely similar to that of the work we are studying here[6].

The subject of the five panels known to date confirms that this was an altarpiece dedicated to the Joys of the Virgin. In accordance with the surviving scenes, it is possible that the altarpiece had two side sections with three scenes in each one, so it is highly likely that it included a sixth panel with the Pentecost, or some episode from the cycle of death and glorification of the Virgin, such as her Dormition or Coronation. The figure being worshipped in the ensemble is beyond question, so it would seem logical to suppose that it would have been presided over by a panel of the Virgin and Child. Saying that, and as was common with the Hispanic altarpieces of the period, it is quite possible that the ensemble was presided over by the Crucifixion, with the lower area housing a predella with depictions of saints.

The style of the panel confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that what we have before us is a work by the so-called St. Bartholomew Master. Faces, clothing, compositions, architectural setting, and an infinity of secondary details enable us to establish relevant links to the rest of the compartments belonging to the same altarpiece, as well as to the panels from the St. Bartholomew altarpiece. It is as such that we should rule out the attribution to Bernat Martorell suggested for some of the compartments from the Marian retablo, in particular the Ascension of Christ in Seville. This panel was the subject of a recent technical study where it was still presented as being by Martorell[7]. And yet the attribution to the latter makes no sense, in spite of the close links between the Catalan painter and the St. Bartholomew Master. Be that as it may, there are clear links between our master and Aragonese painting from the late International Gothic period, specifically with painters such as the Master of Alloza, by whom an Epiphany with interesting similarities to the one we are studying here is preserved in the Museo de Zaragoza[8]. This connection, along with the similarities to the work of painters such as the Master of Velilla or the Master of Monterde, allows us to date the activity of the St. Bartholomew Master to around 1445-1460.



[1] The details and bibliography of each one of the panels is included in Macías 2010, pp. 51-55.

[2] The existing differences are due to some of them having been trimmed.

[3] Alcoy 2004, p. 151, note 221.

[4] Brockwell 1915, p. 42, No. 423.

[5] Alcoy 2004, p. 151, n. 221; Macías 2010, pp. 51-53, fig. 11; Macías 2013, p. 369, fig. 254.

[6] Macías 2010, p. 51, fig. 10 and note 59. To the examples of chimney mentioned by Macías, we would add the two-faced Epiphany panel preserved at Granada’s Capilla Real, an Aragonese work from the period by Bartolomé Bermejo (Velasco 2018a), and an Adoration of the Shepherds (Laia Bosch collection) attributed to a follower of Bermejo, interesting because it is also a work of Aragonese origin (Velasco 2018b, p. 117, fig. 45).

[7] Kriznar et al. 2012.

[8] Alcoy 2004, p. 151, note 221.