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The Master of Liesborn

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A Westphalian painter, who in 1465 executed an altar-piece of note in the Benedictine monastery of Liesborn, founded by Charlemagne. His name is not mentioned by the historian of the monastery, who, however, declares that the Greeks would have looked on him as an artist of the first rank. Even in the fourteenth century the Cologne school of painting found a rival in Westphalia, and in the fifteenth century the latter could oppose the great Liesborn painter to Stephen Lochner. These two have something in common with each other and with the Van Eycks in Flanders, and both in their work rather reflect the past than look into the future. On the suppression of the monastery in 1807, the chef d'oeuvre of the Westphalian artist was unfortunately sold, divided into parts, and thus scattered. The principal parts, some of these purely fragmentary, are now to be found in the National Gallery of London, in the Muenster Museum, and in private hands. A fair idea of the altar-piece may be formed from a copy in a church at Luenen. The altar had not folding wings the painting being placed side by side on a long panel. in the centre was the Redeemer on the Cross, while Mary stood on one side with Cosmas and Damian, and on the other John, Scholastica, and Benedict. Four angels caught the blood which poured from the wounds. The touchingly beautiful head of the Saviour is still preserved, as are the busts of the saints whose countenances are so full of character and nobility, and several angels with golden chalices. The background is also golden. Four scenes chosen from Sacred History were reproduced on the sides.

The painting of the Annunciation represents a double apartment with vaulted ceiling, the front room being represented as an oratory and the other as a sleeping chamber: the marble floor, the damask curtains which surround the bed, a wardrobe, a bench some vases, and writing material,all are carefully drawn and with due regard for perspective; the arched doorway and the partition wall are adorned with figures of Prophets and Christ, and a representation of the world. The window looks out on a landscape. The Blessed Virgin, clad in a blue mantle over a robe of gold brocade, is seen in the front room turning from her prie-dieu towards the angel, who, richly robed and bearing in his left hand a sceptre, delivers his greeting. Of the Nativity group, there still remain five beautiful angels, who kneel on the ground around the effulgent form of the Child: there also remain two busts of male figures which were probably part of this scene. Of the "Adoration of the Magi" there is but one fragment left. The "Presentation in the Temple" shows a venerable priest, to whom the Mother presents her Child laid on a white cloth: three witnesses surround the priest, while the mother is attended by two maidservants carrying the doves. Several panels have been lost. The Liesborn artist is not as skilfully realistic as van Eyck, but his genius for delineation becomes quite apparent when one observes the nobility of expression about the mouths of his figures, the almond-shaped eyes, the loose curly hair, and the natural folds of the garments. But his most characteristic claim to fame lies in the purity of his taste and in his ideal conception of a sacred subject. The great master's influence is evident in other works, but no second work cam be attributed directly to him.


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