St John Mourning
Master of the Pilsen Crucifixion Group

ca. 1440

Hardwood, remnants of original and baroque polychromy
Height 74 cm



The sculpture is probably from an altar shrine and presumably formed part of a crucifixion group that would have included the figures of a mourning Virgin and Christ nailed to the cross. The sculptor belonged to the generation of artists who, around 1430, began to take a fresher look at reality and renew the routinely employed patterns of the Beautiful Style with proposals for new formal solutions. Rather than the radical break seen in the work of several of his contemporaries, however, he strove for a more cautious refinement of tradition. In doing so, he placed value on emotion and expression, developing an almost elegiac pathos.

As is so often the case, the identity of this master has remained a mystery. He is known, however, to have worked in Nuremberg, one of the leading art centres in Southern Germany at that time. Both in the city itself and in the surrounding Franconian regions, he left behind a relatively large oeuvre, this figure of John being executed at the very beginning of his career. It may hav been part of the main altar of the Friedhofskapelle in Langenzenn, not far from Nuremberg. There is still a crucified Christ in the shrine there that corresponds in terms of style, size and date of origin to the Frankfurt St John.

The sculptor’s designation derives from the sculptures forming the crucifixion group of around 1450 in St Bartholomew’s Church in Pilsen (Plzenˇ), Bohemia, where he presumably settled around this time, since from then on all of the works attributed to him are found there, rather than in the Nuremberg area. The master of the St John in Frankfurt thus exemplifies the important and influential role played by Late Gothic art of Nuremberg far beyond the borders of that region.