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Details & Cataloguing

Old Master Sculpture and Works of Art Including Highlights from the Reinhold Hofstätter Collection

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Austrian, Villach, circa 1515
VIRGIN AND CHILD IN AN AUREOLE

Provenance

Private collection, Austria;
with Sascha Mehringer, Munich, Germany, by 2001

Exhibited

Friesach, Museum Moderner Kunst Kärnten, Schauplatz Mittelalter Friesach: Kärntner Landesausstellung, 2001, no. 03.14

Literature

F. Kieslinger (ed.), Mittelalterliche Religiöse Plastik aus Österreich, exh. cat. Hagenbund, Vienna 1933, p. 9 and pl. XIII;
G. Müller-Gutenbrunn, Die Kärntner Schnitzplastik am Anfang des 16. Jahrhunderts, Diss. Vienna, 1943, p. 56;
O. Demus, 'Die spätgotischen Altäre Kärntens', Forschung und Kunst 25, Klagenfurt, 1991, pp. 252-254 and fig. 285

Catalogue Note

This petite statuette of the Virgin and Child defies its dimensions by creating an exuberant sense of monumentality. Holding aloft the blessing Christ Child, the Virgin smiles sweetly while balancing on the back of a crescent moon among clouds. Her exaggerated contrapposto stance is enhanced by massive folds of drapery which sway outwards at her sides and overlap in narrow swirls at her feet. The sculptor thus creates an illusionistic effect of flotation, which lends a virtuoso elegance to the composition. Serving as supports for the delicate foot of the voluminous group, the swirling clouds mirror the forms of the Virgin's drapery, while the diminutive Angel, in a charming gesture, quite literally holds the Virgin upright by placing His right hand on the back of Her legs.

Carved in the round, the statuette is remarkable not only for its compositional ambition but for the striking image that appears on its reverse. Attached to the Virgin's back is a beautifully carved portrait-like face of the sun, with rays that accentuate the serenity of the scene. The iconography is based on the Woman of the Apocalypse, who was identified with the Mother of God in the Middle Ages. 

The group is a rare survival of late Gothic small-scale sculpture from the Austrian state of Carinthia (Kärnten). First shown in an exhibition of medieval Austrian sculpture in 1933, the statuette was described there as 'among the best and most intimate works of a representative Carinthian carver of around 1510' (Kieslinger, op. cit.). Later scholarship has established an origin in the Villach-based workshop of the master whose figures adorn the Altar now in the Deutschordenskirche in Friesach. In fact, the present group appears to be a clever adaptation of the Virgin and Child at the centre of the Friesach Altar. While it retains the large statue's grandeur, the statuette adds interest through the addition of the Sun and Angel, and its sense of levitation. Its survival and extraordinary state of preservation testify to the precious status it must have enjoyed across the centuries.

Old Master Sculpture and Works of Art Including Highlights from the Reinhold Hofstätter Collection

|
London