To date no-one has been able to establish the exact identity of the Master of the St. Bartholomew Altarpiece, one of the greatest European artists of the late 15th century who had neither pupils nor followers. No doubt a native of the northern part of the Netherlands and active between 1475 and 1510, he belonged to the Cologne School, where he seemed to settle circa 1480. This school brilliantly maintained a medieval concept of painting until the early 16th century, demonstrating a desire for idealism in representation and perfection in craftsmanship.
Steeped in the Dutch influence, this painting dates from the first part of the artist’s career and is characterised by an angular drawing style: rigid, isolated figures, faces with pronounced features and creases in the clothing.
It was part of an altarpiece devoted to the life of the Virgin Mary, the panels of which have since been separated. From the 14th century, in representations of the birth of Christ, the labour scene was replaced by the kneeling Virgin adoring the infant Jesus, following a vision of St. Brigit of Sweden (1302-1373).