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Saints Cosmas and Damian and the Virgin
Master of Liesborn
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This is a fragment of an altarpiece made for the high altar of the Benedictine abbey at Liesborn. It comes from the central scene, which depicted the Crucifixion; a fragment showing Christ’s head is also in the National Gallery’s collection. It was common for Crucifixion scenes to include the Virgin Mary mourning her son beneath the Cross.

Beside her are two third-century saints, the brothers Cosmas and Damian, as the altarpiece was dedicated to them, among others. They are richly dressed in fur-trimmed clothing and they hold ointment jars, a reference to their medical expertise. According to their legend they healed many people but did not accept payment for treatment.

The fluttering cloth in the top right corner is part of Christ’s loincloth; below, we see part of Christ’s right leg, details which confirm the position of the fragment in the altarpiece.

Key facts
Artist Master of Liesborn
Artist dates active second half of the 15th century
Full title Saints Cosmas and Damian and the Virgin: Fragment of the Crucifixion Scene
Group The Liesborn Altarpiece
Date made probably 1470-80
Medium and support Oil on canvas, transferred from oak
Dimensions 54.9 x 72.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1854
Inventory number NG261
Location in Gallery Room 62
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The Liesborn Altarpiece

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These images once formed part of a large altarpiece made for the high altar of the monastery church of the Benedictine abbey at Liesborn, in Westphalia in north-west Germany. The main panel consisted of a central scene of the Crucifixion, flanked on either side by two smaller individual scenes from Christ’s infancy.

In 1517 two shutters painted by the Master of Cappenberg were added to either side of the Master of Liesborn’s original panel. These showed the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, his resurrection and events that occurred afterwards, such as the Pentecost.

The altarpiece was removed in the eighteenth century and later cut up; only fragments survive. Six images from the main panel are in the National Gallery’s collection: three fragments of the central Crucifixion, two complete flanking images (The Annunciation and The Presentation in the Temple) and a fragment of The Adoration of the Kings, another flanking scene. Two further images come from the shutters.

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