Ecce Homo, the king Caspar, the Virgin and Child, and the Arms of the Families Kündig and Pfyffer (detail), 1592, Christoph Murer. Black chalk, black ink, gray wash, traces of black chalk on paper, 24 15/16 × 25 1/4 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018.4. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
The Getty Museum recently acquired a striking drawing by the sixteenth-century Swiss artist Christoph Murer.
An Unusually Large Drawing
Ecce Homo, the king Caspar, the Virgin and Child, and the Arms of the Families Kündig and Pfyffer, 1592, Christoph Murer. Black chalk, black ink, gray wash, traces of black chalk on paper, 24 15/16 × 25 1/4 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018.4. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program
Murer’s drawing is of an extraordinary and impressive scale. Most drawings are relatively small, but this one spans four sheets of paper joined to make a composition of about 25 x 25 inches. What is the reason for its unusual size? It was made as a to-scale model for a stained glass window at the Cistercian abbey of Rathausen near Lucerne, Switzerland.
The corresponding glass belonged to a series of 67 windows decorated with biblical scenes related to the salvation of humankind. Murer worked on scenes from the Life of Christ, and this design features a dramatic composition of the Ecce Homo in which the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate displays Jesus before a jeering crowd shortly before he is crucified. Christ, recently scourged and bound, looks down at the crowd, while Pilate looks directly out of the page at the viewer, as if implicating him or her in the action.
An Impressively Detailed Scene
The complicated composition, which includes a detailed architectural setting and large crowd, requires the viewer’s careful observation to take in all the details. A member of the crowd holds up the cross on which Christ will be crucified, as a grim reminder of what is to come. Another man uses what looks like a magnifying glass to examine Christ, while a small child at the foot of the steps points upwards; both figures draw the viewer’s attention to the main action of the image.
Detail of Ecce Homo, the king Caspar, the Virgin and Child, and the Arms of the Families Kündig and Pfyffer showing a figure using what appears to be a magnifying glass. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018.4
Yet characters from a different chapter in the story frame the scene. At right stands the Virgin Mary with the infant Christ in her arms, and at left, the wise man King Caspar appears bearing his gift of frankincense. Above them float angels who bear instruments of the Passion: the Cross on which Christ was crucified and the column to which he was bound when flagellated. At the bottom are two coats of arms and two putti flanking a cartouche intended for a later inscription.
Murer took great pains to articulate details, such as the folds of drapery, facial features, and musculature of the figures who populate the scene. The pen line is fine and delicate, executed with exceptional precision, while the sensitive application of wash creates volume through nuanced shadow.
From Paper to Glass
Today we consider drawings autonomous works of art, but they were often made as models for works in other media, such as paintings, metalwork, prints, sculpture, or—as in this case—stained glass. While Murer came up with the design, another artist, Franz Fallenter, handled the execution of the window itself.
Unfortunately, the corresponding window does not survive, but this drawing is a testament to the process that went into its making and gives us a sense of the final product. Further, it’s rare; models like this one were often destroyed or badly damaged in the process of making the window, yet this one survives in surprisingly good condition.
A surviving example of a stained glass window, similar to the one produced from Murer’s drawing: The Flagellation, Christ at the Column, 1598, Franz Fallenter. Stained glass, 27 1/2 × 29 1/4 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 53.200.2. Image: www.metmuseum.org
During the early modern period, stained glass was a luxurious medium because of the great cost of materials and labor that went into its manufacture. Commissioning a work of stained glass was an act of prestige and sign of wealth for the patron.
The two coats of arms on the bottom of the sheet attest to the patronage of the Kündig and Pyffer families who commissioned the work for the abbey. The figure of the biblical magus Caspar is also a reference to a member of the Kündig family who shared the wise man’s name.
Detail of Ecce Homo, the king Caspar, the Virgin and Child, and the Arms of the Families Kündig and Pfyffer showing coats of arms at the bottom of the sheet. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018.4