German Sculpture - 15th Century; Vischer Family; Innsbruck.
The 15th century was one of great activity and originality in the sculpture of Germany and produced many artists of very high ability. One speciality of the time was the production of an immense number of wooden altars and reredoses, painted and gilt in the most gorgeous way and covered with subject-reliefs and statues, the former often treated in a very pictorial style. Wooden screens, stalls, tabernacles, and other church-fittings of the greatest elaboration and clever workmanship were largely produced in Germany at the same time, and on into the 16th century. Jorg Syrlin, one of the most able of these sculptors in wood, executed the gorgeous choir-stalls in Ulm cathedral, richly decorated with statuettes and canopied work, between 1469 and 1474; his son and namesake sculptured the elaborate stalls in Blaubeuren church of 1493 and the great pulpit in Ulm cathedral. Veit Stoss of Nuremberg, though a man of bad character, was a most skilful sculptor in wood; he carved the high altar, the tabernacle, and the stalls of the Frauenkirche at Cracow, between 1472 and 1495. One of his finest works is a large piece of wooden panelling, nearly 6 feet square, carved in 1495, with central reliefs of the Doom and the Heavenly Host, framed by minute reliefs of scenes from Bible history. It is now in the Nuremberg town-hall. Wohlgemuth (1434-1519), the master of A. Dürer, was not only a painter but also a clever wood-carver, as was also Dürer himself (1471-1528), who executed a tabernacle for the Host with an exquisitely carved relief of Christ in Majesty between the Virgin and St John, which still exists in the chapel of the monastery of Landau. Dürer also produced miniature reliefs cut in boxwood and hone-stone, of which the British Museum (print room) possesses one of the finest examples. Adam Krafft (c. 1455-1507) was another of this class of sculptors, but he worked also in stone; he produced the great Schreyer monument (1492) for St Sebald's at Nuremberg, a very skilful though mannered piece of sculpture, with very realistic figures in the costume of the time, carved in a way more suited to wood than stone, and too pictorial in effect. He also made the great tabernacle for the Host, 80 feet high, covered with statuettes, in Ulm cathedral, and the very spirited "Stations of the Cross" on the road to the Nuremberg cemetery.
The Vischer family.
The Vischer family of Nuremberg for three generations were among the ablest sculptors in bronze during the 15th and 16th centuries. Hermann Vischer the elder worked mostly between 1450 and 1505, following the earlier mediaeval traditions, but without the originality of his son. Among his existing works the chief are the bronze font at Wittenberg church (1457) and four episcopal effigies in relief, dated from 1475 to 1505, in Bamberg cathedral; this church also contains a fine series of bronze sepulchral monuments of various dates throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. Hermann's son Peter Vischer was the chief artist of the family; he was admitted a master in the sculptor's guild in 1489, and passed the greater part of his life at Nuremberg, where he died in 1529. In technique few bronze sculptors have ever equalled him; but his designs are marred by an excess of mannered realism and a too exuberant fancy. His chief early work was the tomb of Archbishop Ernest in Magdeburg cathedral (1495), surrounded with fine statuettes of the apostles under semi-Gothic canopies; it is purer in style than his later works, such as the magnificent shrine of St Sebald at Nuremberg, a tall canopied bronze structure, crowded with reliefs and statuettes in the most lavish way. The general form of the shrine is Gothic, but the details are those of the 16th-century Italian Renaissance treated with much freedom and originality. Some of the statuettes of saints attached to the slender columns of the canopy are modelled with much grace and even dignity of form. A small portrait figure of Peter himself, introduced at one end of the base, is a marvel of clever realism : he has represented himself as a stout, bearded man, wearing a large leathern apron and holding some of the tools of his craft. In this work, executed from 1508 to 1519, Peter was assisted by his sons, as is recorded in an inscription on the base " Petter Vischer, Purger zu Nurmberg, machet das Werck mit seinen Sunnen, und ward folbracht im Jar MDXIX . . ." This gorgeous shrine is a remarkable example of the uncommercial spirit which animated the artists of that time, and of the evident delight which they took in their work. Dragons, grotesques, and little figures of boys, mixed with graceful scroll foliage, crowd every possible part of the canopy and its shafts, designed in the most free and unconventional way and executed with an utter disregard of the time and labour which were lavished on them. Other existing works by Peter Vischer and his sons are the Entombment relief, signed "P. V. 1522," in the Aegidien-kirche, the monument of Cardinal Albert (1525) in the church at Aschaffenburg, and the fine tomb of Frederick the Wise (1527) in the castle chapel at Wittenberg.
Next to Nuremberg, the chief centres of bronze sculpture were Augsburg and Lübeck. Innsbruck possesses one of the finest series of bronze statues of the first half of the 16th century, namely twenty-eight colossal figures round the tomb of the emperor Maximilian, which stands in the centre of the nave, representing a suc-cession of heroes and ancestors of the emperor. The first of the statues which was completed cost 3000 florins, and so Maximilian invited the help of Peter Vischer, whose skill was greater and whose work less expensive than that of the local craftsmen. Most of them, however, were executed by sculptors of whom little is now known. They differ much in style, though all are of great techni-cal merit. The finest (see fig. 14) is an ideal statue of King Arthur of Britain, in plate armour of the 14th or early 15th century, very remarkable for the nobility of the face and pose. That of Theodoric is also a very fine con-ception. Some of the portrait figures of the Hapsburgs are almost ludicrously realistic, and are disfigured by the ugly German armour of the time.
565-2 This class of large wooden retable was much imitated in Spain and Scandinavia. The metropolitan cathedral of Röskilde in Denmark possesses a very large and magnificent example covered with subject reliefs enriched with gold and colours.
565-3 See Waagen, Kunst und Künstler in Deutschl., Leipsic, 1843-45.
565-4 This great work is really a canopied pedestal to support and enclose the shrine, not the shrine itself, which is a work of the 14th century, having the gabled form commonly used in the Middle Ages for metal reliquaries.
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