The Restored Crucified Thief by the
Master of Flémalle in Context
The Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung presented a special exhibition revolving around a work of key significance to the history of European art: the so-called “Crucified Thief“ by the “Master of Flémalle”, one of the most enigmatic figures of Early Netherlandish painting. Comprehensive examination and restoration of the fragment got underway at the Städel Museum in October 2014. Painted on both sides, it is the only surviving section of a large-scale triptych of the “Deposition“ that was among the most prominent and influential works of Netherlandish painting at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Now that the conservation and restoration measures have reached completion, the precious work literally shines with new splendour. The exhibition shed light on the procedure and spectacular outcome of the technological examination and the restoration. It also featured thirteen selected comparanda in the mediums of sculpture, panel painting, drawing and book illumination, serving to contextualize the fragment in a wide variety of ways.
“With New Splendour: The Restored Crucified Thief by the Master of Flémalle in Context” was the first presentation ever to bring works together that, as early copies, testify to the fame of the original altarpiece while at the same time providing the basis for reconstructing that nonextant overall ensemble. The selection included such outstanding loans as a painted copy from the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, one drawing each from the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge (Mass., USA) and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (UK), and the Book of Hours of Katharina van Lochorst from the Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte in Münster. The fragment moreover was shown in conjunction with Netherlandish and German sculptures of the period in question, which is splendidly represented at the Liebieghaus by the so-called “Rimini Altar“ and Hans Multscher’s “Holy Trinity“. The two last-named works are currently undergoing comprehensive restoration measures themselves, and the exhibition provided suspenseful insights into those projects. One prominent result of the restoration of the “Crucified Thief“ is the recovery of its fascinating illusion of three-dimensionality, a characteristic of the painting of the “Master of Flémalle” that stood out all the more saliently in the show through its dialogical juxtaposition with masterworks of Netherlandish and German sculpture. An entirely new experience of the sophisticated manner in which the “Flémaller” played with contemporary visual expectations, but also of the competition between painting and sculpture in the early fifteenth century, awaited the visitor.
A cooperation of the Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung
Curator Prof. Dr. Jochen Sander (Städel Museum)
Supported by Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain
The conservation and restoration of the “Crucified Thief” was supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Art Conservation Project