Master Francke

Dominican, painter

(ca. 1380 - after 1430)


A brief biography.


H. Reincke proved that Francke was born in Hamburg ca. 1380, as member of the shoemakers family Lubberdse- Francke. Perhaps the family was once living in Zutphen, the Netherlands, and moved to Hamburg. His mother descended from a family from Hamelin, Germany, which moved to Hamburg. Francke joined the Dominicans of the Saint John's priory in Hamburg. In records he is stated as Black friar (because of the black coat), Fratre Francone Zutphanico (because of the family background) , Meister Nicolaus  (his orders name?), or frater Francke monachus.

In the early 15e century he had travelled about the country, perhaps about Gelre or Burgundy, because he painted a portrait of the countess Mary of Gelre,  descended from of an ancient family of Burgundy.


The first known work of Master Francke is the St. Barbara altarpiece, (Helsinki, Kansallismuseo), 190x432 cm.

Oak relief sculpture (by another artist: we didn't see it); oak wings with 8-part narrative of St. Barbara. The story comes from the Byzantine Menologion (10th c.), newly reissued in 1300 by the Teutonic Knights. This work is an early one--perhaps as early as 1415-20, though some have dated it as late as 1425. It may very well have been painted for export to Finland originally--perhaps for the former Cathedral of Turku, which had a St. Barbara Altar beginning in 1412 and from which it would have been removed during the Reformation. Helsinki's museum acquired it from a small church in Nykyrko (S.W. Finland) in 1908, and were told that, according to local legend, it had washed ashore from the sea by a miracle.


The altarpiece of St. Thomas à Becket. (Hamburg, Kunsthalle).

In 1897 F. Schlie proved that the panels, conserved in the Schwerin Gallery were from the Thomas-altar in the Dominican church of Saint St. John in Hamburg.

The original contract for this altarpiece is dated 1424, "the Monday before St. Nicholas" (although the paintings were not completed until the mid-1430's.) The painter's name is given as "Mester Franckenn," and the commission was signed by two elders of the English Trading Company ("England-Travelers"; Englandsfahrer Gesellschaft) for the company's altar of  Saint Thomas of Canterbury (21 December 1118-29 December 1170), on the south side of the Johanniskirche (Dominican church of St. John, Hamburg). The price is set at an "ungeheurlich" (immense) sum of 100 Lübeck marks.


This altarpiece, 206x377 cm, tells the story of the martyrdom of Thomas à Becket, archbishop of Canterbury. It is the first known work to depict Becket's murder in Canterbury cathedral,  showing passion scenes and incidents from his life. Single panels are preserved in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg. The altarpiece has not survived intact: at some point it was dismantled and shipped to Schwerin, where it was discovered and reassembled. Missing are the two fixed wings (Standfluegel), and the Staffel, or predella, as well as most of the large Calvary picture that once formed the center of the shrine.

On this triptych are saved the four oak panels about the life of the Virgin Mary, with the Nativity of Christ (99x89 cm) and the Adoration of the Magi (99x89,3 cm).  


The Nativity of Christ (upper left).

This unusual Nativity is one of the earliest to follow the visionary description of St. Bridget (Birgitta of Brigitta) of Sweden (ca. 1302-1373; canonized in 1391). When she pilgrimaged to the Holy Land in 1372, she received a vision in the cave of Bethlehem. St. Bridget declared that the Madonna gave birth instantly and painlessly, in a kneeling position, and clothed in white. She further declared that the newborn Infant glowed with divine light as He lay on the bare ground, and that the Virgin immediately began to pray to Him: "Welcome, my God, my Lord, and my Son." The virgin's banderole says "Dominus meus, Deus meus" (my Lord, my God, after John 21,28)). Angels sing Gloria in excelcis Deo. Another unusual feature is the fact that the Nativity is not set in a stable, but in a cave, according to the Byzantine tradition (the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem does include a grotto, which is said to be the actual place where Christ was born.) Scarlet skies with regularly-spaced gold stars are depicted in all four of these exterior wing paintings.


The Adoration of the Magi (upper right).

Three Caucasian kings of differing ages have followed the one star singled out by a dark blue cloud. Madonna and Child are seated at the entrance to the stable; Joseph, still a low-genre character, turns his back to the viewer in order to reach out for the gift of gold, which he proposes to place on the table in the left foreground.


Other paintings of Master Francke, O.P.

The Man of Sorrows (Leipzig). Oak panel: 42.5 x 31.3 cm (small).

Man of Sorrows as the Judex Mundi (Judge of the World) (Hamburg, Kunsthalle). Oak panel: 92.5 x 67 cm

Altarpiece for the altar of the brotherhood in Reval (lost).

Two panels for the Dom in Munster (lost).


Master Francke died after 1430 in (the priory ?) Hamburg.


 Philately                                                   Germany 2006











   The nativity of Christ. Mi 2569                                              Adoration of the Magi. Mi 2570




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