Hermsdorff-Retabel [predella]

Hermsdorff-Retabel [predella]


Hermsdorff-Retabel [predella]

[Thiepold 2013, 5]


[Thiepold 2013, 5]

Rochlitz Last Supper Altar

[Thiepold 2013, 3]

Painting on softwood (?)


Painting on softwood (?)

[compare: Thiepold 2013, 5]

The predella illustrates the 'Washing of the Feet' (Joh 13, 4-11). Christ kneels at the centre of the painting in an austere grey room to wash Peter's feet in a copper bowl. John brings a tin jug and a white cloth, while the remaining apostles sit and stand on the

The predella illustrates the 'Washing of the Feet' (Joh 13, 4-11). Christ kneels at the centre of the painting in an austere grey room to wash Peter's feet in a copper bowl. John brings a tin jug and a white cloth, while the remaining apostles sit and stand on the left side of the painting observing the washing.

[compare: Thiepold 2013, 18-20]

"Although the Washing of the Feet occupies the entire height of the predella the scene is flanked on the left and right by ornamentation painted on a greyish-blue background. [...].[...]The ornamentation draws on elements from the last scene on the interior of the right wing, the mascaron. Painted in the same yellow-orange base tone these elements consist of hanging fruit and grotesque heads. They wind snake-like from the narrow edge of the predella towards the image field. Suspiciously they observe the scene. The contours are blurred by foliage and flowers that extend from their torsos into the surrounding area. The curved outer edge of the predella has a similar frame to the central panel.'

[Thiepold 2013, 20]

Master of the Pflock Altarpiece and Workshop
Master of the Pflock Altarpiece


Master of the Pflock Altarpiece and Workshop

[Thiepold 2013, 127-128]

Master of the Pflock Altarpiece

[Sandner 1993, 242, 302, 304]
[Sandner 2005, 23]

Production dates
about 1518 - 1520
about 1521

Production dates

about 1518 - 1520

[Thiepold 2013, 127-128]

about 1521

[Sandner 1993, 304]

Dimensions of support:


  • Dimensions of support:

  • 40 x 221.2 x 17 cm

  • [Sommer, Ulrike/ Mai, Arne, unpublished conservation report, 31.08.2007]

Signature / Dating


Ev.-Luth. Kirchgemeinde Rochlitz
St. Kunigundenkirche Rochlitz
FR (1978) Nr.
Persistent Link


  • at the earliest since 1518 and at the latest since 1522 in the Church of Kunigunden (Kunigundenkirche), Rochlitz
    [Thiepold, cda 2014]
  • from 1564 in the hospital church (Heilig-Geist-Kirche), Rochlitz
  • in the hospital church until its demolition in 1904
  • after the restoration treatment carried out in Dresden it was returned to the Church of St Kunigunden (the altarpiece was probably preserved in the sacristy from about 1936 until 1972)
    [compare: Thiepold 2013, 5-6]


1972 Staatliche Galerie Moritzburg, Halle, Germany


Reference on page Catalogue Number Figure / Plate
Thiepold 2013
AuthorLaura Thiepold
TitleDer Epitaphaltar des Stifters Ambrosius Hermsdorff in der Kunigundenkirche zu Rochlitz [unveröffentlichte Masterarbeit, Düsseldorf]
Place of PublicationCologne
Year of Publication2013
Sandner 2005 16-30
AuthorIngo Sandner
TitleDer Kompositionsentwurf auf dem Malgrund, der erste Schritt der Bildentstehung
Publicationin Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Sachsen, ed., Ästhetik und Wissenschaft - Beiträge zur Restaurierung und Denkmalpflege, Arbeitsheft 8
Place of PublicationDresden
Year of Publication2005
Sandner 1993 101, 242, 302, 304, 360 Fig. 77
AuthorIngo Sandner
TitleSpätgotische Tafelmalerei in Sachsen
Place of PublicationDresden, Basel
Year of Publication1993
Exhib. Cat. Halle 1972 36 Figs. 36
EditorStaatliche Galerie Moritzburg
TitleLucas Cranach und die sächsische Malerei seiner Zeit
Place of PublicationHalle
Year of Publication1972

Research History / Discussion

This work is a catholic altarpiece. The following two points of reference highlight this:

  1. The reformation only reached Rochlitz in the year 1527[1]

  2. The epitaph on the reverse makes reference to an altarist. (Altarists worked exclusively for the Catholic Church)

[Thiepold, cda 2014]

The depiction of the Last Supper initially recalls the reformation iconographic program. However, in the 16th century representations of the Last Supper were common both in the Protestant and the Catholic Churches.[2]

The fact that the altarpiece predominantly represents scenes related to the Last Supper is quite unusual. Admittedly, depictions of the Last Supper also number among the protestant altarpieces by Lucas Cranach the Elder, like for example the reformation altarpiece in Wittenberg from 1547 or the Schneeberg Altarpiece from 1539 [DE_WSCH_NONE-WSCH001F], but only in a series with other biblical scenes. Innovative it would seem is that the Hermsdorff retable is exclusively concerned with the day or evening of the Last Supper when displayed open. If this altarpiece was commissioned by the donor for the salvation of the soul, then the iconographical program is in direct contravention with the liturgy of a requiem. The depiction of the Last Supper with reference to the altarist’s function is contradictory as an altarist, in contrast to a priest[3], does not have the authority to celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist and without a congregation the requiem is so to speak comprised only of the altarist’s silent prayer[4]. Using this knowledge as a starting point three theories can be deduced:

  1. The donor expressly desired that the scenes of the Last Supper were represented on his altarpiece, because the altarist was not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist and he wished to have the associated sacrament recorded in the iconographical program. The scene of the Last Supper may also recall the Viaticum, received in the hour of death in preparation for the journey.[5]

  2. The donor desired that the altarist celebrate a Holy Mass (the Last Supper) despite his limited authority.

  3. Hermsdorff commissioned the altarpiece during his lifetime and had the Last Supper depicted, because as an altarist he had never been permitted to celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist. The iconographical program thus represents what he never achieved during his lifetime but fervently desired.

[compare: Thiepold 2013, 38-39]

It can be excluded that the altarpiece initially served another purpose. By virtue of the modest size and the fact, that an epitaph was usually commissioned by a donor so that a requiem mass could be held in his honour in front of it, it can be excluded that the altarpiece initially served as the main altarpiece of a church.

[compare: Thiepold 2013, 39]

On the basis of evidence it may be assumed that the epitaph sides were painting after Ambrosius Hermsdorff’s death, in the year 1521. This is suggested by the inscription on the epitaph, which states that Hermsdorff was the altarist of this altarpiece. This would mean that the retable must have already existed. One could assume, that the statement „dißes Altars“ [Thiepold 2013, 36] does not mean the altar retable, but the altar mensa, which was more rarely replaced. However it is more likely that the epitaph sides or reverse was painted retrospectively as is demonstrated below. The former and present location of the altarpiece also suggests that the epitaph sides were a later addition. Due to the architectural situation in the church the side altar could only be installed so that the reverse was against the wall of the north side aisle. It would appear that it was accepted that the Epitaph inscription was only visible on the reverse and would not always be visible to everybody. This suggests that Hermsdorff was not the actual donor or commissioner of the altarpiece, but that as the altarist he had the possibility to leave his epitaph inscription and his image on the verso of the central panel.

[compare: Thiepold 2013, 41-42]

There is a considerable discrepancy between the brushwork on the front and the reverse of the Epitaph altar. This is most apparent in the arrangement of the folds. It seems that the artist responsible for the side with the epitaph imitated the artist who created the other image fields that perhaps already existed. The depiction of the paths with grass and stones are similar, but the painterly quality is worse on the reverse of the altar. The physiognomy of the angel recalls the typical distinctive style of the Master of the Pflocksche Altar, and is not particularly reminiscent of the Cranach workshop.

[compare: Thiepold 2013, 49-65]

As was already mentioned above the shapes of the heads and the physiognomies on the inner sides of the altar were painted in a manner typically redolent of the Master of the Pflocksche Altar. The faces are elongated, the forehead is extremely high. The heads are generally narrow and long, whereas the skullcap appears spherical. This is particularly obvious in the depiction of Judas in the scene of the Last Supper. However it must be pointed out that this image draws heavily on Dürer’s Last Supper from the Passion series and the physiognomies are indeed a little strange. In addition to the physiognomies the posture and the arrangement of the folds exhibit characteristic features found in paintings attributed to the Master of the Pflocksche Altar. The knee of the free leg is often visible beneath the draperies. However the kneecap is generally positioned too low so that the thigh appears too long. It is particularly apparent in the figure of James on the Mount of Olives and Christ in the scene with the washing of the feet that the artist struggled with a correct anatomical representation of the transition from the head to the neck.

[compare: Thiepold 2013, 51-62]

Different painterly qualities can be distinguished on the retable. On the exterior of the wings the representations of St John the Baptist and St Erasmus are of a considerably better quality than the other images. It may be assumed that these were painted by the Master. The images showing the preparation for the Last Supper and the Last Supper may have been executed by the Master with the assistance of workshop members. The stylistic differences evident in the images showing the ‚Agony in the Garden’ and the ‘Washing of the Feet’ suggest they were executed by a workshop member. The reverse of the altar, the side with the epitaph, may also have been painted by a workshop member.

[compare: Thiepold 2013, 70], [Thiepold, cda 2014]

Other than the scene of the Last Supper a further relationship with Dürer’s work can be observed on the retable in the scene of the ‘Agony in the Garden’. Here the artist adopts an almost identical arrangement and representation to that of Dürer’s Apostles Peter, John and James in the engraving of the Agony in the Garden in the Passion series from 1508[6].

[compare Thiepold 2013, 44]

[1] see Heine, Samuel Gottlieb, ed., Historische Beschreibung der alten Stadt und Grafschaft Rochlitz in Meißen, Leipzig (1719) 161

[2] see Harbison, Craig, ‘The northern altarpiece as a cultural document’, in P. Humfrey, M. Kemp, The altarpiece in the Renaissance, Cambridge (1990) 49-75

[3] see Kasper, Walter, ‘Skandal einer Trennung - Offene Kommunion als Zeichen der Hoffnung’, In: Publik-Forum, Heft 45 (1970) 23

[4] see Sander, Kai Gallus, Email an Laura Thiepold, 21.08.2013, verfasst von Prof. dr. theol. Kai Gallus Sander (Katholische Hochschule Nordrhein-Westfalen, Campus Paderborn)

[5] see Angenendt, Arnold, Geschichte der Religiosität im Mittelalter, 2. Aufl., Darmstadt (2000) 668

[6] see Schoch, Rainer et al.: Albrecht Dürer - Das druckgraphische Werk, Bd. 1, Kupferstiche, Eisenradierungen und Kaltnadelblätter, München (2001) 131

  • Hermsdorff-Retabel [predella], about 1518 - 1520


Compare images
  • overall
  • overall
  • overall
  • overall
  • reverse

Technical studies

Paint Layers and Gilding

On this panel the paint layers were often applied as washes and in part almost expressionist in execution. The painterly quality of this panel is the worst on the altar. This is evident in the rendering of the clasp on Peter's coat.

[Thiepold, cda 2014]

Conservation History

Date2007 -

Condition before treatment in 2007:

'The base and covering panel as well as the side elements of the predella were replaced during a previous restoration. The board on the reverse was trimmed on both sides and additions were attached. There are marks from a previous fittings as well as carved letters and notches. There is a sturdy metal band with locking bolts to attach it to the central panel embedded in the covering panel. The covering panel exhibits numerous open worm channels. The corners of the base panel are damaged on both sides. [...]

The predella painting and the mascerons are more damaged - scratches and small losses caused by mechanical action. There are numerous dark, discoloured retouches, particularly on the draperies. Extensive reconstruction of the image was carried out during a previous restoration, particularly in the masceron on the left and the background. The black of the covering and base panels exhibits losses or abrasion in some places. There is a large loss in the yellow moulding of the covering panel above the painted area. [...]

The reverse of the predella has been painted black and there is extensive flaking with a whitish appearance.'

[Sommer, Ulrike/ Mai, Arne, unpublished conservation report, 31.08.2007, 5-8]

Metal elements:

All the metal brackets and bands that had been mounted in visible places were removed. All the remaining metal elements were derusted, treated with rust stopper and coated with a black acrylic finish. The hidden fixture of the lunette on the upper frame of the central panel consists of a stainless steel pin and tube.


'Losses caused by the metal brackets mounted during a former treatment were filled with lime wood. When the panel was extended during a previous restoration treatment a piece of moulding was removed from each side of the frame at the bottom. It was replaced with a corresponding lime wood moulding. Small losses in the wood were also filed with lime wood or wood-filler (covering panel, frame, central panel, predella).

Fish glue was used to glue all the inserts and loose battens and joins. A board of c. 5 mm was positioned under the central panel to make it easier to open the wings.'

Paint layers:

A partial consolidation of the paint layers was carried out employing French rabbit-skin glue (50:1000). The entire reverse of the right wing required consolidation. In all other areas a partial consolidation was carried out. Some areas could not be consolidated with glue and neutralized Acronal was employed in such situations. The surface cleaning was carried out with a fine pored sponge or cotton swabs and water without any additives. Frothing was observed in some areas.

Losses in the paint layers were filled with a chalk mix (50:1000). The retouches were carried out in gouache paints from the manufacturer Schmincke. In addition to losses in some places very discoloured, old retouches were covered up - in the draperies on the predella, in the lower area of the verso of the wing panels, in the lower area of the epitaph side and in Judas' robe on the central panel. The disturbing bare wood edge that shrinkage of the panel made visible was toned in.

'In areas where the silver had blackened some ground tin was added to the gouache. The gold-leaf gilded areas were reintegrated with an initial base layer of bole coloured gouache and finished with shell-gold. Bole and gold-leaf were only employed on the reconstructions in the frame. The degree of gloss was evened out by applying dammar in white spirits to matt areas and retouching.'

[compare: Sommer, Ulrike/Mai, Arne, Conservation Report of the Hermßdorff Epitaph Altar for the church community of Rochlitz, unpublished, 31.08.2007, 3-9]

  • conservation treatment by Ulrike Sommer
  • conservation treatment by Arne Mai

Date1904 -

According to the conservation report from 2007 the frame of the altar was reworked during the first restoration treatment. Sections of the wood were replaced and metal bands were used to fix the component parts of the altar together as well as metal brackets mounted to stablize the structure. At the same time hinges, grommets and latches were replaced.

[Sommer, Ulrike/ Mai, Arne, unpublished conservation report, Rochlitz 31.08.2007]

Citing from the Cranach Digital Archive

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