Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 127

Rediscovering the Master of the Saint George and the Princess: new paintings
In the first panel, the Virgin appears before a lectern
on which rests a book. Resting her left hand on the
lectern, she greets the Archangel Gabriel with her other
hand. To the left of the viewer, a large jug with white
lilies and the letters alpha and omega recall her virginal
purity. In the second panel, Gabriel holds a phylactery
which bears no inscription. Both figures wear tunics
and mantles of pink and light blue tones, treated with
a certain delicacy. Gabriel looks straight ahead, while
Mary, interrupted from her reading, turns her head in
surprise at the angel’s arrival. Unusually, the episode
does not take place in a defined interior space. Instead
the two figures, the jug, and the lectern float against
a gold background that gives a supernatural aura to
the episode. This is so pronounced in the case of the
archangel that he appears to levitate. The decoration of
the panels includes embossed and gilded gesso used to
depict the concentric forms of the haloes, the borders of
the mantles, and the cuffs of Gabriel’s tunic.
Macias points out some additions and repainting on the
bottom of both panels, although these do not affect the
faces of the figures.42 The additions are best understood
when the two panels are viewed side by side (where they
meet there is a kind of triangular shape representing
these restorations). It is clear that these modifications
were not made on additional wood inserts, since the
original support – two pinewood wood boards – is
visible on the reverse in its original state.43 In other
words, the addition – comprising the lower part of the
tunics of both characters and an important part of the
gilding – was made directly on the original support.
This strange situation forces us to make allowances for a
series of unusual characteristics presented by the panels.
The first of these is the gold background on which the
figures, the jug, and the lectern are painted. As noted
above, this background replaces the usual location of the
Annunciation within a domestic interior, and gives the
panels a manifest unreality. Nevertheless, the solution
is not strange in the context of works attributed to our
painter, since it also occurs in the small panel of Daniel in
the Museo del Prado, where the head appears to be almost
stuck onto the gold leaf background. It is also striking
that the gilded surface of the panel of the archangel
includes punched vegetal motifs, whereas the panel
with the Virgin Mary does not. The resulting effect is
strange, not only because one panel includes punchwork
and the other does not, but also because the punching
is very summary and schematic, executed without the
detail and definition that a work of this type required.
Rediscovering the Master of the Saint George and the Princess: new paintings
To my knowledge, there are no works with similar
technical characteristics from this period in the Crown of
Aragon. This is clearly because these paintings present
an anomaly: the panels were never finished. According
to the technique of estofado commonly practiced at that
time, it was unnecessary to make the outlines of punched
shapes very precise as any lack of definition would be
disguised by the final layer of polychromy.44 Given that
the interiors of the punched shapes in the background of
the Gabriel panel are not polychromed, it is obvious that
the master did not complete the decoration of the panel.
In my opinion, there is a second detail that shows
that the fragments were unfinished. This is the blank
phylactery held by Gabriel (which normally would
present the angelic salutation: “Ave Maria gratia plena
Dominus tecum ...”). On the other hand, at the edges
of this phylactery there is a vegetal decoration painted
in red. This begs the question of why the painter did
not finish the work, which is difficult to answer, as there
is no doubt that the fragments were mounted in the
altarpiece to which they belonged. It is more challenging
to specify when the modifications were made, although
everything indicates that these were undertaken when
the panels entered the art market, in order to give them
a more finished and saleable appearance.45 If this is
so, it would be reasonable to suppose that the original
support is found underneath the repainting, and that
in the triangular zone marked by the additions, some
type of structural element of the altarpiece is missing.
This hypothesis coincides with what was affirmed at the
time by Macías,46 who supposed that originally these
fragments did not occupy the side calles of the altarpiece,
but were located in the interstices at the top of the
retable, as in the Altarpiece of the Epiphany of the Museu
Episcopal de Vic attributed to Huguet.47 This would
explain the fact that the triangular zone of the lower
part had been left undecorated.
In any case, the faces of Mary and Gabriel leave no
doubt as to the attribution of these paintings (figs. 9a
& 9b). They are clearly the work of the Master of
Saint George and the Princess. We see the peculiar
treatment of the faces, with the self-absorbed looks
so characteristic of the master. The half-opened eyes
again feature white eyeballs with brown spots for the iris
and contrasting black pupils. We also detect the slight
white brushstrokes that produce brightness on the nose,
cheekbones and chin, as in the fragmentary Betrayal of
Christ, and these recur in a Lamentation over the Dead Christ
analyzed below.
Figs. 9a & 9b / Master
of Saint George and the
Princess, Annunciation
(details), Saragossa, Museo
de Zaragoza.


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