Circle of the Housebook Master
This emotive miniature of the Crucifixion was painted by a follower of the so-called Housebook Master, one of the most famous and enigmatic artists of the late-fifteenth century in the Middle Rhine region. The image follows traditional iconography; Christ swoons on the cross, John the Evangelist weeps into a cloth, and Christ’s mother, wrapped in a bright blue mantel, clasps her hands together in prayerful grief. Joseph of Arimathea, a more unusual figure, appears on the right backed by a platoon of soldiers. The scene takes place in a craggy landscape with a turreted citadel representing Jerusalem in the background. Generously applied gold highlights cause this stirring piece to shimmer. The cutting is undoubtedly excised from a Book of Hours, likely from a leaf beginning Matins from the Hours of the Cross with the incipit Domine labia mea aperies. The blank verso (probably the true recto) suggests that the leaf was inserted as a stub within the quire to create a double page spread, with the miniature on the verso facing Matins on the recto. The cutting is presently framed in an elaborate wooden tabernacle of modern origin.
The painter of this miniature was a follower of the Housebook Master, an anonymous artist working in multiple media in the Middle Rhine region around Mainz between 1470–1500. The artist’s name derives from a famous manuscript to which he contributed three miniatures around 1480 known as the “Housebook,” now in the collection of Count Waldburg-Wolfegg in southwest Germany (fig. 1). Though the Housebook Master probably began his career as an illuminator, he is best known for his engravings, being an early pioneer of drypoint technique which was immensely influential to the next generation of printmakers such as Albrecht Dürer. He is also known as the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet in reference to the largest collection of the artist’s prints held in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Besides a few established works, his oeuvre remains hotly contested. Few miniatures are known, and only four from an Evangeliarium in the Cleveland Museum of Art (William H. Marlatt Fund 1952.465) can be attributed to him with any certainty. The persisting difficulty of attribution, however, shows the Master’s formidable influence in the Middle Rhine where his style was replicated by many artists.
The wide distribution of his style also makes it difficult to establish whether the Master maintained a workshop. He may have collaborated with a number of local ateliers such as the so-called workshop of the Giant Bible of Mainz and the circle of artists who produced the Simmern Missal in Berlin (Kupferstichkabinette, 78B4). The present miniature may have been produced in one of these workshops. It repeats the Housebook Master’s lively style and fresh, cool pallet as seen for instance in a miniature of the Crucifixion painted for the Simmern Missal but now in the Lehman Collection (fig. 1; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.I.2479). The painter of our miniature repeats the Housebook Master’s draftsman-like treatment of the figures, but the rather blunt features of the heads are fairly distinctive and indicate a hand not yet identified from the Master’s circle. While the painter remains unknown, the miniature provides yet another clue to the Housebook Master and his circle and demonstrates the Master’s ongoing influence in the late medieval Rhineland.
Unpublished. For further reading see:
Bossert, Helmuth Theodor, and Willy F. Storck. Das mittelalterliche Hausbuch nach dem Originale im Besitze des Fürsten von Waldburg-Wolfegg-Waldsee im Auftrage des Deutschen Vereins für Kunstwissenschaft, Leipzig, 1912.
Essenwein, August von. Mittelalterliches Hausbuch: Bilderhandschrift des 15. Jahrhunderts mit vollständigem Text und facsimilierten Abbildungen, Frankfurt, 1887.
Faber du Faur, Curt von. Der Hausbuchmeister, Berlin, 1921.
Filedt Kok J. P., ed. Vom Leben im späten Mittelalter: Der Hausbuchmeister oder Meister des Amsterdamer Kabinetts, Amsterdam, 1985.
Graf zu Waldburg-Wolfegg, Christoph, ed. Das mittelalterliche Hausbuch: Betrachtungen vor einer Bilderhandschrift, Munich, 1997.
Graf zu Waldburg Wolfegg, Christoph. Venus und Mars: Das mittelalterliche Hausbuch, Munich; New York, 1997.
Hess, Daniel. Meister um das “mittelalterliche Hausbuch”: Studien zur Hausbuchmeisterfrage, Mainz, 1994.
Hindman, Sandra, et al. The Robert Lehman Collection. IV. Illuminations. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/ Princeton, 1997, pp. 12-19.
Hoppe, Stephan. “Das Wolfegger Hausbuch, der Bellifortis des Konrad Kyeser und der junge Maximilian von Habsburg: Höfische Buchprojekte in einer Zeit des Wandels,” in Von analogen und digitalen Zugängen zur Kunst Festschrift für Hubertus Kohle zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Maria Effinger, et al., Heidelberg, 2019, pp. 15–50.
Hutchison, Jane Campbell. The Master of the Housebook, New York, 1972.
Hutchison, Jane Campbell. “Meister des Hausbuchs,” in Neue Deutsche Biographie, vol. 16, Berlin 1990.
Schedl, Michaela. Tafelmalerei der Spätgotik am südlichen Mittelrhein, Mainz, 2016, pp. 157–372.
Stange, Alfred. Der Hausbuchmeister: Gesamtdarstellung und Katalog seiner Gemälde, Kupferstiche und Zeichnungen, Baden-Baden, 1958.
Stange, Alfred. Die deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer, vol. 2, Munich, 1970.