The chapel of St Leopold contains the Verdun Altar made in 1181 by Nicholas of Verdun. Its three parts comprise 51 gilded copper plates modeled on Byzantine paragons, similar to the Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral. Originally manufactured as panels, they were assembled as an altar in secondary utilization circa 1330.
The tripartite concept is reflected in the arrangement of the plates. According to the biblical exegesis, the depictions are split into three rows of the eras of Adam and Noah, of Abraham, David and the Babylonian captivity and finally of Jesus' life, placed in the central part. The columns of adjacent plates of different ages symbolise their connection according to the ideas of the typology theory. The arrangement may refer to the mystic doctrines of the medieval theologian Hugh of Saint Victor.
NICOLAS OF VERDUN:
French goldsmith. His known works indicate that he was one of the leading metalworkers of his day and an early exponent of the classicising styles around 1200 that formed a transition between Romanesque and Gothic. In his two dated signatures, "NICOLAUS VIRDUNENSIS (1181)" on the enamel decoration of the former pulpit in Klosterneuburg Abbey, Austria, and "MAGISTER NICHOLAUS DE VERDUM (1205)" on the Shrine of the Virgin in Tournai Cathedral, the artist gave as his place of origin Verdun, in Lorraine, an area that in the 12th century had close economic and cultural links with the Rhineland, Champagne, the Ile-de-France and the metalworking centres of the Meuse. A more ambiguous signature, "NICOLAUS DE VERDA", was on the pedestal of one of a lost pair of enthroned, silver-gilt statuettes in Worms Cathedral representing St Peter and the founder Queen Constance, the wife either of Emperor Henry VI (m. 1186; d 1198) or of Emperor Frederick II (m. 1209; d 1222). The spelling Verda may perhaps be a defect or a copyist's error. The theory that Nicholas spent his last years as a citizen of Tournai, or had a son there of the same name, was based on mistaken evidence: the reference to a 'namesake' dates from 1318, not 1217, and concerns not a painter on glass (voirier) but a furrier (vairier). Master Nicolas of Verdun is known by his work, not his life. Neither date nor place of his birth have been established. The twelfth century was a time of general turmoil, power struggles, crusades, heresies, persecutions, famines, papal schisms, regicides, migrations and new threats from expansionist Islam. Little wonder Master Nicolas' birth records are lost. So is all other documentary evidence, e.g. guild membership, marriage license, etc. Tradition has it that Nicolas of Verdun learned his quadruple trade of goldsmith, enamel expert, painter and sculptor as an apprentice to one, or many, of the great artists who had followed Abbot Suger's call to restore and innovate the abbey of Saint-Denis. The great Master of Verdun's renditions of reality are in harmony with other representative masterpieces of the high Middle Ages.
In 1181 he executed his masterpiece, the enamelled ambo, in the form of a triptych representing 51 biblical scene, for the commission of the Prior of the Abbey at Klosterneuburg, near Vienna in Austria. In 1184 he worked in Cologne and realized the Reliquary of the Three Magi for the Cathedral. In 1205 he executed the Reliquary of Our Lady, a sumptuous casket in silver and gilded copper for the Cathedral in Tournai. The high relief figures depict the life of Christ and the shrine is further adorned with magnificent medallions.
Nicholas Of Verdun Biography
The altarpiece (1181) of the Abbey Church of Klosterneuburg, Austria, is his best known work and reveals his absolute mastery of metalworking and the technique of champlevé enamelling, in which compartments hollowed out from a metal base are filled with vitreous enamel. The program of scenes on the altar is the most ambitious of its kind in the 12th century and is often considered the most important surviving medieval enamel work. The earlier scenes are done in a mature Romanesque style, but later scenes become progressively more bold and classical.
The reliquary (1205) of SS. Piatus and Nicasius in the Cathedral of Tournai, Belgium, subordinates enamel work to beaten metalwork. Though much-damaged by restoration, it remains a masterful work of early Gothic sculpture, with its slender figures and supple drapery.
The Shrine of the Three Kings in the treasury of Cologne Cathedral is the most important of the Cologne reliquaries attributed to Nicholas. Much of the reliquary is the work of assistants, but the general design and the figures of the prophets are by Nicholas. Powerful and expressive, the prophets have been called the most important metal sculptures of the late 12th century. Two reliquaries attributed to Nicholas, the shrines of St. Anne in Siegburg and of St. Albanus in Saint-Pantaleon, Cologne, have suffered so much by restoration that they no longer reveal the hand of Nicholas except in the overall design.