Imperialissima Master - Throne of Grace, about 1500

Imperialissima Master (active late 15th century - early 16th century)

Throne of Grace (Altar of the Trinity with Saint Catherine and a Bishop Saint), about 1500

Oak, 152.5 x 128.5 cm (60 1/16 x 50 9/16 in.) framed


Object details

Accession number



Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from the art dealer and restorer Hermann Einstein, Munich for 5,000 marks on 17 August 1897.


Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 275. (as Swabian, about 1480)
Charles L. Kuhn. "German Late Gothic Sculpture in the Gardner Museum, Boston" in Wilhelm Reinhold Walter Koehler (ed.). Medieval Studies in Memory of A. Kingsley Porter (Cambridge, 1939), pp. 559-63, fig. 2. (the sculptures as Swabian, probably School of Ulm, about 1500; the shrine as South German, end of the 15th century)
Walter Paatz. Bernt Notke und sein Kreis (Berlin, 1939), p. 314, no. 12, pl. 164. (as the Imperialissima Master, Wenryk Wylsynck (?), a collaborator of Bernt Notke, about 1510-1520)
G. von der Osten. "Niederdeutsche Bildewerke in Amerikanischen Besitz." Niederdeutsche Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte (1965), p. 102. (as the Imperialissima Master)
Theodor Müller. Sculpture in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Spain, 1400-1500 (Harmondsworth, 1966), p. 165. (as the Imperialissima Master, perhaps Wenryk Wylsynck)
Anneliese Harding. German Sculpture in New England Museums (Boston, 1972), pp. 14, 37, 83, no. 43. (as Lübeck, end the 15th century)
Cornelius C. Vermeule III et al. Sculpture in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1977), pp. 92-93, no. 121. (as North German, Lübeck, circle of Bernt Notke, about 1510-1520)
Walter Cahn. "Medieval Sculpture" in James Thomas Herbert Baily (ed.). The Connoisseur: An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors, "Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum" (London, 1978), pp. 26-27, no. 9. (as North German, Lübeck, circle of Bernt Notke, about 1510-1520)
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 168-69, ill. (as North German, Lübeck, circle of Bernt Notke, about 1510-1520)
John Rowlands et al. Drawings by German Artists and Artists from German-speaking regions of Europe in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum: the Fifteenth Century, and the Sixteenth Century by Artists born before 1530 (London, 1993), p. 20, no. 37. (as circle of Notke)
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 31-32. (German (northern), the same artist as the Tjustrup Gnadenstuhl, the Imperialissima Master, about 1500)

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This highly accomplished monumental work was carved by an unknown sculptor active in northern Germany or Denmark. A sculpture by the same artist, which displays the same voluminous but organized curls in the hair and beard, comes from Tjustrup near Copenhagen (Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen). The sculptor may have been based in Lübeck in northern Germany, which was an important artistic center at this period.

Representations of the Trinity — God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Ghost symbolized by a dove — became popular in northern Europe beginning in the twelfth century. This sculpture depicts the specific theme known as the Seat of Mercy or the Throne of Grace (in German, Gnadenstuhl), in which God the Father holds the body of the crucified Christ on his lap. Here, Christ opens his hand to display his wound, and gestures to his side, as the enthroned God embraces his son.

On the left, Saint Catherine looks at a book and holds the spoke of a wheel, instrument of her martyrdom. At her feet is a tiny figure of Maxentius, her tormentor. On the right, a bishop saint, perhaps Nicholas, makes a sign of benediction. Although now set in a nineteenth-century frame, these figures would have formed the original center section of an altarpiece, probably accompanied by wings with smaller figures.

Source: Alan Chong, "The Trinity with Saint Catherine and a Bishop Saint," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 31.


German, Swabia

Head of Christ

German, Rhineland Palatinate

Head of a Bishop

German, Upper Rhine

Saint Jerome