Divinity and Discovery

Saints and sinners

Gothic art in medieval Europe developed at different times with distinctive variations across countries. Artistic commissions for medieval artists came mainly from the church and other wealthy and influential members of society.

An example of Bohemian gothic – and the beginning of the Beautiful style, a central European variant of the International gothic style – is shown in this painting by the Master of the Třeboň Altarpiece from the Augustinian Monastery church of St Giles.

The best-known panel work in medieval Hungarian art shows the meeting between St Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary. Though seemingly an idyll, the barren rocks, twisted trees and delicate flowers are allusions to the Passion.

Our Lady of Trakai is one of the oldest easel paintings from Lithuania and is linked to the early Christianisation of the country. Created as an object of devotion, the work combines Byzantine, medieval and Baroque styles. Since its creation in the late 1400s, the painting has been altered and decorated over the centuries.

Master Martin was one of the first known gothic artists in the Spiš – a region in North Eastern Slovakia. The Madonna Enthroned Between St. Catherine and St. Elizabeth was probably intended to be the central panel of a triptych. Curator Dušan Buran of the Slovak National Gallery describes the work as follows:

'The Queen of Heaven is accompanied by two uncommonly popular saints of the late middle ages: St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Apart from the convincingly rendered materials of the saints‘ attire (brocades, silks, furs, gold accessories, and even a transparent shirt for the Christ child), the painting compels by its decorative brocade background. This was a favoured technique since the mid-15th century, with which gesso was shaped to create a relief with foliate ornament. This was then covered with gold leaf or – in this case – with cheaper silver leaf covered with a yellow varnish.'

You can find out more about Slovakia’s selections for Europeana 280 here.

In southern Europe, Andreas Pavias painted at a time when the Greek island of Crete was under Venetian rule and known as the Kingdom of Candia, a production centre for Byzantine iconography. His Crucifixion was painted in the latter half of the 15th century, using egg tempera on a wood panel and adhering to traditional Byzantine iconography.

In The Fountain of Youth, 1546, German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder explored medieval themes of rejuvenation and earthly love. In the revitalising spring waters, the old are made young and enjoy the pleasures of food, dance and love. The ultimate cause of rejuvenation is earthly love, represented by the statue of Venus on the top of the fountain.