The Virgin’s Passion

The Gothic Diptych at the Minneapolis Museum of Art, which is
attributed to the Master of the Passion Diptych, seems atfirst glance to
be a fine example of the mixed mannerism and classicism typical of a time
in transition between Gothic and Renaissance styles. The small ivory
panels, which are dated at approximately 1375, have a deeply traditional
subject matter. They portray a series of scenes from the life of Christ,
beginning with the Annunciation and proceeding through his birth, adoration
by the Magi, betrayal, death, ascension, and the final gift of his spirit
to the people at Pentecost. These subjects are executed skillfully in the
tiny medium (the entire work in less than 9 inches tall), with careful
attention paid to the expression and placement of the figures.
Stylistically, this piece seems both common to its time and yet also
enlightening as to its historical moment. There is a certain classical
stylization to the flow of the drapery and clothing about the figures which
has evolved from the more formless shapes of the earlier middle ages, and
hints at an evolving classicism and awareness of form that heralds the
oncoming Renaissance. The characters are in constant contorting motion,
and the drapery about them is used to accentuate the angles at which they
are caught, and an articulated body is visible below. “In the Gothic figure
no such differentiation exists” (Iskold), until the Gothic begins to blend
Sucha blend is not entirely uncommon in the later Gothic era, of
course, and one sees other characteristics of the Gothic more obviously
present. The extreme mannerism of certain artists at this time is more
gently portrayed here, but still visible in the bodies that contort off to
one side, and the sometimes exaggerated facial expressions. The male
background figures especially tend towards a slightly regressive mannerism,
with grins that border on gri…