MASTER OF A. E.

The Memorial painting of Georg von Schleinitz: Ecce Homo – Pilate Showing Christ to the People, with the von Schleinitz Family below as donors

Active in Meissen, Saxony, ca. 1474 - 1518

Oil and gold on panel

Including original frame: 161.7 x 130 cm. Painting surface 149 x 116.5 cm

Scroll down

A gesticulating crowd of people, whose excitable and urgent speech is represented visually by the scrolling banners, push towards the sorrowful and courageous figure of crouching Christ.  Below, the donor Georg von Schleinitz is shown kneeling with his four sons, one of whom is Bishop Johann von Schleinitz (born c. 1470, Bishop from 1518-1537), and his four wives, three of whom had already died, with his three daughters shown opposite.  According to their coats-of-arms, these former wives were from the von Schlieben, von Einsiedel, von Pflugk and von Miltitz families. Georg von Schleinitz, who was born around 1440 and died on the 31 April 1501, was the princely Commissar in Oschatz from 1460. In 1461 he accompanied the Archduke Wilhelm of Saxony to Jerusalem, and he later served the Archdukes Albrecht and Ernst as Counsellor. In 1470 he married Marie von Miltitz who is depicted in the painting.

The picture may have been commissioned according to the will of Georg von Schleinitz, or possibly by the deceased’s family, following his death on 31 April 1501.

Before 1500 there were only a few few centres of painting and sculpture in the territories of the House of Wettin (modern-day Saxony and Thuringia). These comprised the old City of Freiberg, the commercial city of Leipzig and the Margravate of Meissen. Painters and sculptors moved there from Southern Germany, particularly from Franconia and Schwabia. Among them was a pupil from the workshop of Hans Pleydenwurff (1420-1472) in Nuremburg, to whom can be assigned the Altar of the Crucifixion in the Church in Leipzig Stötteritz, as well as, inter alia, the authorship of the present panel. Besides the stylistic parallels with the work of Pleydenwurff, our painter – whom we may name The Master AE – also displays painterly characteristics which are only found in the work of this Nuremburg artist. The colours are applied with a fine brush and only in some places in broad fields. After Pleydenwurff’s death in 1472, our master left Nuremburg and travelled to Saxony in search of work. The Stötteritz Altarpiece, which still shows the influence of his master Pleydenwurff,  was probably the Master AE’s first independent commission, a work with which the newcomer hoped to attract favourable attention. This must have been around 1473 before he had established a workshop in Meissen.

In these new surroundings our artist was exposed to novel influences, although he did not fundamentally change his old style and techniques, even if he may have rationalised his working methods. The double-sided wing panels of the altarpiece from Krakau bei Grossenhain depicting The Crucifixion and The Flagellation of Christ provide the first evidence of the development of an independent style and creative spirit. The restrained gestures of the Stötteritz Crucifixion are here intensified into theatrical contortions. The spatial depth found in the earlier landscape is now compressed into a single plane. By progressively freeing himself from the influence of his master Pleydenwurff, our master found his own pictorial language, but at the same time lost his earlier delight in the careful painting of fine details. Only in his landscapes did he occasionally hark back to his earlier artistic formation.

The Flagellation from the Krakau altarpiece takes place in a vaulted hallway seen through an archway on which are painted the coat-of-arms of the artist, the date 1474, and, to the right, the initials “AE”. At present no documentary evidence has come to light linking the signature with the name of an identifiable artist and so the group of paintings attributable to this master is known under the pseudonym of the “The Master AE” The wing panels from the Krakau Altarpiece are of the highest quality. Even if they are not of quite the same standard as the paintings of Pleydenwurff on which they are modelled, they are nevertheless among the finest productions of Saxon painting between 1470 and 1500. The love of red costumes and the special delight taken in the painting of brocades and patterned textiles are typical characteristics which are repeated in almost all the paintings in the group attributable to our master, and these have their origins in Pleydenwurff's Nuremberg worshop. Pleydenwurff‘s former assistant, Michael Wolgemut, who married his master’s widow, took over the running of the workshop after 1472, and depicted almost identical samples of precious patterned fabrics to those  found in the work of the Master AE. This is particularly noticeable in the panels from Wolgemut’s high altar in the Marienkirche in Zwickau of 1479.

The hypothesis that the Master AE settled in Meissen is supported by various pieces of evidence. In several works attributable to him painted after 1480, he evidently collaborated with a Meissen carver known as “The Master of the Meissen Frauenkirche Altar”. These works reflect the importance of the Margraval Seat of Meissen up until 1485, when the city was partitioned by the House of Wettin and lost its importance. To this group belong the Scheibenberg Altarpiece as well as some works destroyed in 1945 and the altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi which was in the Bartholomäuskirche in Dresden until the destruction of the church between 1838 and 1839.

In 1486 a series of painted panels depicting the Annunciation, Nativity, Presentation in the Temple and Adoration of the Shepherds were commissioned by Bishop Johann V. von Weißenbach for his city chapel in Vest Stolpen as a continuation of an earlier altarpiece which had been started after 1472. The Stolpen wing panels, known only from photographs, show the distance which our artist had travelled from his origins in the Nuremburg workshop. The delegation of the execution of the altarpiece to assistants and the impact of local artistic influences led to a falling-off of the quality of the design even though our master’s distinctive artistic characteristics and love of large patterned fabrics continued. While the Master AE’s early works for the churches in Stötteritz and Krakau bei Großenhain were still dominated by the influence of Pleydenwurff, the Stolpen panels show a knowledge of Martin Schongauer’s engravings and composition, as well as echoing the animation and joyfulness seen on the face of the Virgin in Wolgemut’s altarpiece in the Marienkirche in Zwickau. This suggests that around the 1486 our painter must either have seen Wohlgemut’s altarpiece (which had been completed in 1479) or renewed contact with his Nuremburg workshop.

To the period between 1480 and 1500, and probably around 1490, belong the Scheibenberg Altarpiece and the Crucifixion from the Church in Reinersdorf. The typical painterly features that one associates with our master are here crudely outlined and these characteristics, combined with the hard facial features, suggest the intervention of assistants and the production of a flourishing workshop. The current locations are not the original ones. The Scheibenberg Altarpiece came from an unknown earlier location and must have been installed subsequently in the Church of Scheibenberg, because the church, which was begun in 1559, was not completed until 1571. The carved elements of the altarpiece emanated from the workshop of the Master of the Meissen Frauenkirchenalatar and this provides a further example of the collaboration between the Master AE and this Meissen woodcarver. The Crucifixion altarpiece, originally from the Church in Reinersdorf, was moved to the Dresden Altertumsmuseum in the nineteenth century and from there to the Albrechtsburg, Meissen between 1945 and 2007, since when it has been displayed in the Schlossmuseum Chemnitz. 

The present painting – the Memorial of Georg von Schleinitz – is a late work by the Master AE produced towards the end of his thirty-or-so years of activity in Saxony. Here again red draperies dominate the colour scheme and there is a noticeable return to the quality of execution found in his early works. The faces and details are more finely painted here than in any other of the artist’s other surviving pictures. The rise in the quality of the works painted after 1490 possibly reflects the influence of patrons and there may have been a stipulation in the contracts that he should work on his own, without the help of assistants. His known taste for theatrical gestures here borders on the grotesque. The effect of the mocking figures who press forward up the steps and surround Christ is reinforced by the compression of the picture plane with its gold background. The viewpoint is centred on the black and red striped shirt of the figure who launches a burlesque offensive against the figure of the scourged Christ who is being exposed to the ridicule of the crowd. Pilate attempts to appeal to the compassion of the people with the words, “Behold what kind of man he is” but the masses shout back: “Crucify him”. A red flag held by one of the soldiers depicts a scorpion, symbol of falsehood, disloyalty and treachery, while banners with inscriptions in Latin float like a wall of words over the dramatic scene. The Memorial of Georg von Schleinitz can thus be regarded as the most expressive and powerful of all the surviving works by the Master AE.

When the picture was hung in the Chapel of Schloss Siebeneichen, a plaque was erected with the following words:  “Anno dm. Millesino qvingentesinoprimo vitradie aprilis obijt/nobilis etstrenvvs dus. Georgivs de Schleynitz miles/hic sepultus cui(us) a(n)i(m)a reqviescat in pace amen”.  [On 31st  April in the year of our Lord 1501 George de Schleynitz, knight died, who is buried here. May his soul rest in peace, Amen]. The surviving original frame suggests it was conceived as a single panel rather than as the former wing of a large altarpiece.

Prof. Dr. Ingo Sandner

Technical data

MASTER OF A. E.

The Memorial painting of Georg von Schleinitz: Ecce Homo – Pilate Showing Christ to the People, with the von Schleinitz Family below as donors

Active in Meissen, Saxony, ca. 1474 - 1518

Oil and gold on panel

Including original frame: 161.7 x 130 cm. Painting surface 149 x 116.5 cm

Private collection, Germany