Lincolnshire contains many fine churches packed with interest but occasionally one comes across an unremarkable church that contains something unusual or fascinating. St German’s, Scothern is just such a church. Located just north-east of Lincoln, the church itself is not particularly remarkable; a combination of mediaeval builds, a remodeling in 1776, and a restoration in 1876. The chancel was rebuilt in 1904 and the reredos was placed in it at that time. Pevsner’s Buildings of England has this to say about the reredos: “1904 and respectable. Is the Italian-style Adoration of the Magi genuine 17th century?”. In the middle of the reredos is a small panel which, until recently, was dark and dirty but recognisable as an Adoration scene. Was it a late 19th century copy, or maybe even an 18th century replica? Pevsner (and his reviser, Nicholas Antram nearly 30 years later) left the question open.
In the mid-1990s the church PCC decided to have the painting conserved. By this time the boards on which the picture was painted had begun to crack and the paint had begun to flake off. Opinion suggested that the painting was indeed 17th or even 16th century Flemish work and the PCC asked the Hamilton Kerr Institute (HKI) in Cambridge to carry out the work. HKI confirmed the age of the painting and began work on conserving it in 1999. In addition they also designed a special environmental and security chamber to house it in the reredos. The work took four years to complete and the painting and reredos (which had also be cleaned by HKI) was returned to the church in the middle of 2003.
Little is known about the history of the painting or who painted it. The panel was not in the church prior to 1904 and only appears as part of the reredos when that was introduced at the rebuilding of the chancel by C. C. Sibthorpe in 1904. As the Sibthorpes were collectors of paintings it is possible that the panel was obtained from their collection.
An exact date cannot be obtained for the painting because it does not appear in any catalogues. However, it is almost identical to an engraving by Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) made in 1594. Which came first is uncertain because Goltzius copied from the works of other artists and his drawing has many elements that appear in a painting of 1513 by Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533).