Special presentation of the nearly complete Passion altarpiece by Hans Schäufelein


On Maundy Thursday, 29 March 2018, the Gemäldegalerie of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin presents the nearly complete Passion altarpiece painted by Hans Schäufelein in the early 16th century. Thanks to support from the Kaiser Friedrich Museumsverein, the Kulturstiftung der Länder, and a generous permanent loan, the ensemble of two outer panels and four inner panels is now reunited and can be displayed together for the first time in nearly 200 years.

Two panels by Schäufelein, which together display the scene of Christ taking leave of his mother, belong to the Gemäldegalerie’s earliest holdings. The Prussian king acquired these paintings in 1821 with the Solly collection. Because of their narrow, vertical format and exceptional thinness, the panels were quite quickly assumed to be the outer surfaces of two altar wings. 

The former inner faces of these wings appeared surprisingly on the art market four years ago. They display four scenes from the Passion of Christ, originally arranged in two vertical pairs. These panels must have been separated from the outer panels before 1820, after which they presumably entered a private collection. As they remained in private ownership from that time on, scholars previously had no knowledge of these paintings. Initial assessment revealed that the four panels very likely were not recognized as important works of art between 1820 and 2014. This makes it nearly impossible to trace their provenance. To date the central panel of the altar remains lost. 

The Staatliche Museen and the Kaiser Friedrich Museumsverein purchased two of the rediscovered paintings, the Crowning with Thorns and the Flagellation of Christ, in 2017, with assistance from the Kulturstiftung der Länder. The two other panels, depicting Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Mourning of Christ, were purchased by an American private collector in 2016. This collector has now generously offered the panels to the Gemäldegalerie as a permanent loan, allowing us to present all the surviving pieces of the altarpiece for the first time in nearly 200 years. The reunited panels will be on display in the Dürer room of the Gemäldegalerie until further notice. 

The well-preserved paintings demonstrate Hans Schäufelein’s (ca. 1482/83–1539/40) skill as a superior draughtsman and prominent colourist. He probably painted the panels around 1506, during his tenure as a journeyman in Albrecht Dürer’s workshop in Nuremberg. Dürer’s influence is clearly recognizable in this early work, but the paintings also already reveal Schäufelein’s own distinctive style and his characteristic figural types.