Home Introduction Jesus Mary Apostles Saints Spiritual Themes Genesis Moses Deuteronomic History Educating Arte Full new Screen

Christ’s Farewell to his Mother

Christ’s Farewell to his Mother

Bernhard Strigel. (1460-1528) Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz Gemäldegalerie – Berlin.

Bernhard Strigel was a German painter of the turn of the fifteenth to the sixteenth century. He was born in Memmingen around 1460 and died there in 1528. This was the time that German painting reached maturity and fame. Well-known painters were the Master Lcz (active 1480-1500), who may have been Lucas Cranach the Elder whose dates are known as 1472-1553, Hans Baldung called Grien (1484/1485-1545), Hans Suess von Kulmbach (around 1480-1522), Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), Hans Burgkmair (1473-1531), Albrecht Altdorfer (around 1480-1538) and Wolf Huber (1480/1485-1553). Hans Holbein (1497/1498-1543) should be named of the next generation and he worked much in England.

These artists painted in various parts of Germany and Austria, from the Western Alsace region to the town of Vienna. The centre of artistic energy lay first in Cologne, then in Nuremberg where Dürer and his students worked. The Cranach family also worked there and so did Hans Baldung Grien. Other centres were Augsburg, where the Emperor held the Reichstäge and the rich towns of Franconia like Halle. Bernhard Strigel worked much for Emperor Maximilian I. Not so many paintings are left of that period and the remaining works show a great variety of styles, as is the German mindset. Germany always remained very regional. Each ‘Land’ was proud of its independence and preserved it jealously till the nineteenth century. Even today Germany is a federation in which each Land has its own elected members of Parliament, elections being held at different times for each Land. As of old, Germans are only united to elect their President, the Reichstag or Parliament and the Kanzler or Prime Minister.

The picture ‘Christ takes Leave of his Mother’ is remarkable. It is different in general feeling from all other paintings of the period. It was part of what must have been a very large altarpiece, maybe painted for the town of Isny in the region of Allgäu D1 . This origin however remains uncertain. Two further panels are in a museum in Karlsruhe; four other were burnt in Berlin in 1945. A pity, because these are definitely masterpieces that should be known beyond German borders.

The panel we look at is of the Late International Gothic period. To this testify the long, vertical, static figures. But this panel in particular, if seen in isolation from Gothic style and in isolation from the other remaining panels of the altarpiece, is very original, powerful and individual. This picture could be considered as a work of a much later period, maybe even as the work of a late nineteenth century painter who would have wanted to express a religious scene in a highly stylised way.

Jesus is standing in the middle of the frame, holding and consoling his mother. Mary is in misery and needs to be supported. She bows her head deep; she has the open mouth of crying out in pain and desperateness. Fate has finally broken her when she heard the last private message of Jesus, which was that she could not be part of what would happen next, that is of Jesus’ passion. It is hard for a person loving another human being to have to abandon that one to his fate, yet that was exactly what Jesus has asked. Admire the tender, loving face of Jesus. Rarely has a painter better succeeded in showing the good and the love in a man.

On both sides of Jesus are groups of figures. Mary’s ladies stand to the right. They stand silently. They are compassionate and reverent. A group of disciples of Jesus are on the left, somewhat hidden between the trees of the garden. Saint Peter stands in front, white-bearded and devote. These also hold their distance. Notice how remarkably Bernhard Strigel has created space and depth. Space by setting Mary’s companions somewhat higher. Depth by showing the disciples further away, more hidden and smaller because of perspective, thus creating the distance. The background of the painting is also very deep. It is a far landscape with trees of full foliage, a medieval castle and the high blue-white alpine mountains. This was the hour of Mary first, not just of two loving people keeping intimate, so it was appropriate to have the ladies of Mary closer than Jesus’ apostles. The distance between ladies and apostles and Jesus and Mary emphasises the drama in the picture.

‘Jesus saying Farewell to his Mother’ of Bernhard Strigel is really a marvellous picture of early German painting and Strigel was a great master of which it is a pity that we have so few works left. The scene is powerful, well composed, in good colours. Strigel even dared to put the darker tones in front and the brighter ones in the back. Mary is in dark blue-green, which is scarcely the conventional colour of her cloak. Jesus is somewhat lighter, but still in brown that is dark beneath. Contrasting with this is the green and gold of the interior of the cloak of Mary’s companion at the extreme right.

Bernhard Strigel was a painter of the Late International Gothic period in Germany, a period in which apparently Renaissance ideas had not yet fully influenced the painter. Strigel has brought us a picture that is very original in depiction. More interesting is the calm, strong, unwavering, direct expression of emotion. Would we not feel exactly the same way as Jesus and Mary in this picture? Strigel, from over the centuries brings us a message of universality of human emotions. The painter shows us conclusively how little difference there is between humans of the early sixteenth century and ourselves. There could not be a better homage to Jesus’ message, here given by a very individual personality.

Other paintings:

Copyright: René Dewil Back to the navigation screen (if that screen has been closed) Last updated: January 2007
Book Next Previous

Copyright: René Dewil - All rights reserved. The electronic form of this document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source as 'René Dewil - The Art of Painting - Copyright'. No permission is granted for commercial use and if you would like to reproduce this work for commercial purposes in all or in part, in any form, as in selling it as a book or published compilation, then you must ask for my permission formally and separately.