European Painting before 1900, Johnson Collection
Triptych showing scenes from the Martyrdom of Saint Barbara and scenes from the Life of Christ
Master of the Laufen High Altarpiece, Austrian (active Salzburg), dated work 1467
Oil and gold on panels
EW1993-127-2a--cPurchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, the George W. Elkins Fund, and Museum funds, 1993
As described in The Golden Legend, written in about 1267 by Jacopo da Voragine, Saint Barbara converted to Christianity against the wishes of her pagan father. Locked in a tower by him, she ordered workmen to construct a third window inthe building to symbolize the Christian trinity. Enraged, her father turned her over to the Roman authorities for torture, and when her execution was ordered,he himself beheaded her. The left and right panels on the front of this triptychillustrate episodes from Barbara’s gruesome martyrdom.
These graphic depictions are intended to help the viewer equate Barbara’s physical torments with those of Christ, whose crucifixion is depicted in the top center composition. The figures at the top left and right, probably the apostles John and Luke, hold sayings taken from the last words of Christ on the cross, which here apply also to Barbara’s death. The bottom center panel shows Barbara enthroned in heaven, wearing a crown and holding a palm frond as symbols of victory over death. A tower and chalice, her identifying attributes, appear nearby.
Barbara’s martyrdom is paralleled on the reverse by the resurrected Christ standing in the tomb. The left and right panels of the back, which are movable and can be folded shut to appear on the front, show the angel Gabriel announcing the incarnation of Christ to the Virgin Mary.
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