Numerous hypotheses have been put forward about the genesis of Theodoric s style, and no unanimity has been reached. There is a dominant conviction that it was of West European origin. Analysis of the painter's technique confirms this. There exists relatively little comparative material from the period that can be of interest to us, nor is there any direct analogy. The technical data at disposal tend to refer to general features whereby the region north of the Alps differs from southern and eastern Europe. As has been said elsewhere 1, with Theodoric ' s arrival certain technical features appeared which, until that time, were exceptional or entirely unknown in Bohemian Gothic painting. It is the aim of this study to draw attention to the origin of these features and trace those of local origin, following local traditions.

The technical data and their assessment are given in the order binding for the origin of a work of art.

Support – The panel is usually made up of four or more pieces of beech-wood with strips of canvas glued over the joints. Hard woods were common in Western Europe. The absence of a canvas cover over the whole area was unusual even there in the 14th century. The traditional construction of a panel of soft wood with canvas cover was binding at the given time, for all other European regions; there are isolated exceptions even in our country.

Ground The optical base of painting is formed by two layers of priming. The composition of the lower one, a warm grey silicious layer, is specific in ingredients for Bohemian Gothic painting. In France and the German lands a silicious layer of different shade was found, in Italy and in the East it does not occur in this form. The top layer of the ground, made of chalk, containing cocolites (fossil shells), was common in all countries north of the Alps. The material of the priming is clearly of local origin, as was the custom. It was prepared not only by the artist it appears.This type of priming in two layers is very frequent in the Czech Lands and lasted until the early 16th century. It seems to be an analogy to the Italian combination of gesso grosso and gesso solile.

Preparatory drawing Striking brush drawing in black plays an important role in the preparation of the painting. In this form it appears in our country for the first time, and its analogy can be traced to West European painting from the early 14th century. In intensity it differes entirely from contemporary Italian drawing, which is so fine that it merges with the paint and can be safely identified only by infra- red reflectography. The character of drawing on Theodoric's panels has several versions, which differ in application and quality and point to the work of several hands. Frequent changes and deviations in comparison with the painting prove the creative process but are no direct proof that the artist who did the drawing and the painting are always the same. The drawing is linear, the modelling of volume is shown in hatching only in exceptional cases in one variant of the brushwork.

The layer of lead white
The striking brushwork of this lay er, clearly visible on an X-ray photo, is a characteristic feature of Theodoric's technique. The appearance of the layer is related to the intensity of the drawing. Apart from its function of insulation and its optical function its purpose is to subdue the drawing, which shows through in blue ish tone. The combination of the chalk ground and the layer of lead white, bonded with oil or oil tempera, used as insulation of the glue coating for oil painting, was found in panel painting in northern Europe already from the 13th century. In 14th century Italian painting the existence of a separate layer of lead white is limited to cases where it has an optical function – forming a reflective area for glaze pigments, especially blue and lake red. In our country a continuous coat was found for the first time in the technique of the Vyšehrad and the Zbraslav Madonnas.

Paint The manner of placing the layers of paint has many variants, ranging from soft bonding medium of oil tempera or oil on its own. 2 Microscopic sections show a rich combination of layers, whose optical sum-total gives the requied resulting tone. The required task to distinguish almost 130 figures by coloured draperies led to highly sophisticated shades of colour that came into being by adding umusually differing colours, such as red glaze on a bright green or violet red and pink on a blue-greenish lower layer. In this sense we are dealing with stratifying technique that was valid in the whole of medieval Europe without regard to the bonding media used. A specific feature that was drived from the possibilities of early oil painting (still with an admixture of proteins) is the painting of carnation, characteristic with its soft transitions of colour mixture, containing in semi-shades and shades some additions of black pigment.


This led to covering grey semi-tones, quite different from optical grey achieved by weakening the skin colour layer on a deep coloured green or brown underpainting, as can be found until the time of Theodoric in Bohemian Gothic. The differentiation of character of the figures is achieved simply by the intensity of semi-glaze tones of the preparatory modelling of the face, predominant are pink and ochre shades. A similar system of painting carnation is current in West European painting, and this contrasts with the method that was still binding, in the southern and eastern regions 3 throughout the 14th century and which was based on green and brown underpainting.

The simplified system of carnation by Theodoric' s technique provided new effects in combination with the traditional optical additions. The bonding medium of the paint, in which oil plays a considerable role, is of northern type, as shown by analyses of Norwegian and English panel painting of the 13th century, but it was not used consistently. It would seem that the uneven share of egg protins is caused by the accidental dilution of the oil paint, as assumed by certain scholars in pre-Eyckian Netherlandish painting 4. The predominance of the oil painting appears at Karlštejn Castle also in the technique of mural painting, which imitates, as has been shown, panel painting 5.

The manner of gilding and the application of relief ornaments deserves a special chapter. According to surviving contemporary reports, gilding and the relatied use of pastiglia was a separate specialization. This division of work was clearly applied also in the Holy Rood Chapel 6. In the work the identical method was not always adhered to, as shown by certain incongruities between the paint and the plastic background The same applies to the pastiglia on the area of the painting proper. It has been convincingly shown that the relief treatment of the picture is of eastern origin 7 and was related to the art of the goldsmith. In the 13th century it appeared in Italy and in Spain, in the early 14th century we can find pastiglia even in Eng land, later this spread to the Netherlands, to the Rhineland and the Westphalia. Even if relief decorations are an intergral part of Theodoric's painting, it is our opinion that they are not a determining element of his style. Not do they provide any support for stipulating the origin of the style.

All this shows that Theodoric's technique is a unique synthesis of western and local elements. It follows the medieval tradition and brings new solutions to the given task. This situation was fittingly characterized by J. Pěšina who stated that »the pictures in the Holy Rood Chapel can be understood only through the special function of this sanctuary, the general spiritual and artistic purpose of the decorations... and as only one, though very significant part of the decorative system, to which the autonomous artistic component was subordinated«8.

(T.G.)

  author
Mojmír Hamsík, AHVT B 026

 

1 M. Hamsík, J. Tomek, Malířská technika Mistra Theodorika, Umění XXXII, 1984, s. 377-387.

2 J. Tomek, D. Pechová, I. Vernerová, Důkaz obrazového pojidla Mistra Theodorika tenkovrstvou chromatografii, in: Restaurátorské umění 1948 až 1988, katalog výstavy, Praha 1989.

3 M. Hamsík, K technice české deskové malby 14. století. Malba inkarnátu jako vývojové kriterium. Technologia artis 1, 1989, s. 39-43.

4 L. Kockaert, Note on the painting technique of Melchior Broederlam, ICOM 7th Triennal meeting, Copenhagen 1984.

5 M. Hamsík, J. Tomek, Technické paralely deskové a nástěnné malby 14. století. Umění XXXI, 1983, s. 308-316.

6 M. Hamsík, Theodorik a dílna – addenda k technice malby, Umění XXXIV, 1986, s. 64-68.

7 M. Frinta, Relief imitation of metallic sheating of Byzantine icons as an indicator of east-west influences, The High Middle Ages, Acta, Vol. VII, 1980.

8 J. Pěšina, Mistr Theodorik, katalog č. 303, in: České umění gotické 1350 až 1420 , s. 221, Praha 1970.


 

Master Theodoric, St Mauritius (KA 43, 10-10b) probes of pastiglia in the background
A-B original and Renaissance pastiglio,
C Renaissance pastiglio

 

 

A
9 layer of varnish (glaze) containing azurite
8 gilding with underlayer
7 blue-grey ground layer
6 later impurities and varnishes
5 gold
4 oil grounding layer for gilding
3 levelling ground of chalk
2 material of Gothic pastiglio up to 455 mí
1 fragment of affixing layer, light ochre coloured

 




B
The same probe, UV luminiscence: a greater amount of oil in the binding medium of Renaissance pastiglio is distinguishable

 

 




C
4 varnish layer with grains of azurite 10-20 mí
3 gilding with a very thin oil ground 8 'mí
2 grounding mastic bluish very coloured20-35 mí
1a breaches in the material of pastiglio
1 material of pastiglio up to 700 mí