Carpentier von Ehrenwall collection, Berlin
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner, 1973
These three painted wooden panels, finely carved in high relief, formed the wings of a large altarpiece dedicated to the Life of the Virgin Mary. The centre of the altarpiece probably contained a Virgin and Child sculpted in the round and flanked by figures of Saints, with a group of the Coronation of the Virgin above. The exterior of the wings would have been painted. The fourth panel illustrating the Adoration of the Magi has recently been located in a German private collection. All three reliefs are distinguished by the exquisite quality of their carving and the excellent preservation of the original paint, in particular the fine brocade ornaments and the rare silver and gilding remaining on the dresses and coats, the angel's wings, and in the gothic vault of the Annunciation.
Datable to around 1490, the reliefs can be situated stylistically between the work of the sculptors Nicolaus Gerhaert, originally from Strasbourg, but active 1462 – 1473 in Vienna, and Tilman Riemenschneider, active in Ulm and Würzburg, circa 1460- 1531. The sculptor of the present panels was probably active in South Germany or in the Alpine region at the end of the 15th century. During this period sculptors travelled extensively around Europe, spreading their style and working methods, which makes it therefore complex to locate the present works to one specific geographic area.
Similar dense narrative scenes, with elegantly carved draperies, such as seen on the archangel Gabriel, can be compared in a series of four important Marian reliefs commissioned around 1490 in Munich for the altar of Schloss Grünwald (today in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, see Th. Müller, no. 48-51). A Virgin from the Alpine region appearing in a Nativity scene, once in the collection of Richard von Passavant-Gontard, in Frankfurt, also shows a very similar elegant treatment of the drapery (see G. Swarzenski, pp. 22-23, no 94).
Professor Krohm also suggesed to consider a stylistic influence from Franconia based on a comparison with a Virgin and Child from the altar of Trautskirchen (today in the Kaiserkapelle of the castle in Nuremberg) by a Nuremberg master whose work is related to the Zwickauer Retable (see S. Roller, op.cit.). Furthermore, a relief of the Visitation, sculpted at the end of the 15th century by a Franconian master, once in the collection of George Hartmann in Frankfurt Main (see H. Wilm, pp. 35-36, no.150-152) shows a similar dense composition with an identical style of carving, in the treatment of faces and angular folds of drapery.
One of the important stylistic characteristics of these reliefs, the contrast created between the contours of the bodies with the architectural elements, dominated by the waving seams of the long dresses, can also be illustrated by several Austrian works of the time. The seated apostles in the Last Judgment relief in the Abbey of Pulgarn (today in the Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum in Linz) are similar in the physiognonmy of the apostles in the Dormition. The Apostle standing in the front to the left of Mary's bed can also be closely compared to an Austrian Apostle figure related to the altar of Kefermark sculpted in the round with a similar treatment of hair and beard (private collection, see R. Feuchtmüller, p.99, no. 20).
We would like to thank Prof. Dr. Hartmut Krohm, curator in the Berlin Skulpturensammlung, and Professor at the Technical University of Berlin for his expertise concerning these reliefs. A complete technical analysis of the shrine (paint and condition) has been undertaken by Ulf Palitza, Dipl. restorer in Berlin and is available on request.
H. Wilm, Bildwerke einer Privatsammlung, Stuttgart, 1942, p. 35-36 Nr. 150-152;
O. H. Förster, Die Sammlung Dr. Richard von Schnitzler, Munich, 1931, p. 49, n° 106;
S. Roller, Nürnberger Bildhauerkunst der Gotik, Beiträge zur Skulptur der Reichsstadt in der zweiten Hälfte des 15. Jahrhundert, Berlin, 1999;
Gotik Schätze Oberösterreich, Katalog zu einem Ausstellungsprojekt des Oberösterreichischen Landesmuseums in Linz, hrsg. von Lothar Schulters. Linz 2003;
F. Kieslinger, Mittelalterliche Skulpturen einer Wiener Sammlung, Wien u. Leipzig ,1937, p. 18 Nr. XXXVI u. XXXVII;
R. Feuchtmüller, Die Sammlung s, Wien u. Heidelberg 1962, p. 99 Nr. 20;
Sammlung Dr. Oertel-München, Bildwerke der Gotik und Renaissance in Holz, Stein und Ton vornehmlich Deutsche Holzplastik, Auktion Rudolph Lepke Berlin, 1913, 6. U. 7. Mai, p. 20 Nr;
Kataloge des Bayerischen Nationalmuseums München, Bd. XIII,2;
T. Müller, Die Bildwerke in Holz, Ton und Stein von der Mitte des XV. bis gegen Mitte des XVI. Jahrhunderts, Munich,1959, p. 54-58 Nr. 48-51;
G. Swarzenski, Sammlung R. von Passavant-Gontard, Frankfurt am Main, 1929, p. 22-23, no 94;
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