Although it is not clear where exactly Matthäus Gundelach was born, we do know that he was the son of the painter Hans Gundelach. By 1593, Matthäus was in Prague, where he was recorded as from Kassel (Hessen). Gundelach probably worked closely with Joseph Heintz the Elder during the first decade of the seventeenth century. He was appointed Kaiserlicher Kammer-Mahler immediately following Heintz's death in 1609, receiving a wage of 25 guilders. Gundelach married Heintz’ widow in 1611 and became guardian of Heintz's children. Even after the death of Rudolf II, he was financially supported by the court until 1614. Gundelach left Prague around 1615 to become a citizen of Augsburg and joined the city’s painters' guild in 1617. He produced numerous paintings for the Augsburg Rathaus, where he was a member of the city council. Among his pupils were two of Heintz’s sons and his own son Hans Wilhelm Gundelach the Younger.
This work on copper depicts the Holy Family with Saint Elisabeth and the infant Saint John the Baptist. The group is hailed by music-making angels. These angels not only surround the Holy Family but are also featured in the clouds. This particular subject in painting was seldomly executed in a small format. It was often used for large altarpieces in Italy and later in the Netherlands, as well, where the angels were depicted separately on the altarpiece’s shutters. Noteworthy is that the music-making angels usually flanked a central panel depicting subjects such as the The Assumption of the Holy Virgin rather than the Holy Family, as depicted here.
This never before published painting, can be attributed to Matthäus Gundelach on the basis of its stylistic and compositional similarities with a work by his hand that was sold at auction in London in 2016. The manner in which the angels are depicted in the clouds, the treatment of the clouds themselves, the handling of the angels' faces, and their hair dress all point to the same hand.
The Adoration of the Shepherds, painted on panel and now in the National Gallery in Prague, that Gundelach painted after Bartholomeus Spranger's version also displays strong resemblances in the composition and details of our Holy Family. The angels and the clouds in the Prague work are again quite comparable. Moreover, the highlights on the angels' foreheads are practically identical.
The use of copper plates as supports for oil paint was widespread during this period. Small paintings were executed on copper very often because the plates allowed for great detail and clarity in colouring, thereby fully catering to the taste of the time. Emperor Rudolf II owned many of these highly meticulous copper paintings and they formed an important part of his royal Kunstkammer. In Prague, the combination of a Holy Family with music-making angels was a common theme. The composition of the painting by Bartholomeus Spranger with this scene was engraved and printed by Aegidius Sadeler and thereby had great influence on other artists.
Elisabeth Bender, Matthäus Gundelach, Diss. Frankfurt am Main 1981
Th. DaCosta Kaufmann, The School of Prague, London 1988