Birth of Jesus 1424
Panel, 99 x 89 cm
The picture shows a detail of the St Thomas Altarpiece.
Master Francke was a German painter. His major surviving work is the altarpiece for the guild of merchants trading with England, showing Passion scenes and incidents from the life of St Thomas Becket. The surviving panels of the St Thomas Becket Altar are characterized above all by the graphic vividness with which the soldiers are depicted, the barrenness of the rocky landscape, and the powerful overlapping with which Francke lends his narratives a whole new sense of drama. The red ground studded with gold stars is already familiar to us from the Master of Trebon.
As appropriate to its theme, the Nativity is the most lyrical and tender panel of the altar. Despite its gracefulness and its predominantly pale skin tone, typical of the day, Mary's head is relatively broad and heavy. Contributing in no small way to the popularity of the altar was the extraordinarily rich and gentle, almost park-like landscape present in the surviving panels; the fore- ground, however, is here sandy, bare and unwelcoming.