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Gothic Relief “Saint Augustine” with Panel Painting (verso)

Gotisches Relief Heiliger Augustinus mit Tafelbild verso

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Time
Upper Austria, around 1480/90
Material
relief: carved lime wood, mostly original polychrome mounting and gilding, panel painting: oil and tempera on wood
Measurements
32 ½×29 in

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, is one of the most important theologians in ecclesiastical history, and his more than 100 writings have had a significant influence on Christianity. Along with Ambrose, Jerome and Pope Gregory I, he is one of the four Latin Fathers of the Church. He is the father of the Augustinian Canons and Augustinian Hermits as well as of all other orders that live according to the rules of St. Augustine (Dominicans, Order of Malta, Teutonic Knights, Brothers Hospitallers etc.). Born in 354 in Thagaste (Algeria) in North Africa, the professor of rhetoric was baptized in Milan in 387 and consecrated bishop in 396 – an office Augustine held with great influence far beyond the borders of his diocese until his death in 430.

This masterfully carved Gothic relief from around 1480/90 shows Augustine as a youthful bishop at his writing desk. The drapery of the magnificent robe and the saint’s outstretched foot lend an unexpected dynamism to the usually static motif of a seated figure. The bench and the desk are richly decorated with tendrils; on the backrest the name of the great church teacher can be found.

This panel is the feast side of a now lost Gothic winged altar, which probably once showed all four Church Fathers in relief – comparable to the Church-Father-Shrine of St. Leo in Bibra (Thuringia) from the Tilman Riemenschneider workshop. The composition of the relief as well as the tendril ornaments are strongly reminiscent of Veit Stoss’ epitaph of Philippus Callimachus (Dominican Church in Krakow, around 1496) – perhaps there was a common, today unknown model for the two pictorial works. The almost sweet face of the saint with a small smiling mouth is reminiscent of the physiognomy of some sculptures by the master of the Kefermarkt altar. Stylistically the highly museal relief can best be classified in the Upper Austrian area.

On the back is – according to the structure of a winged altar – an elaborate panel painting (tempera and oil) with the representation of the judgment of Solomon. It shows a magnificently dressed man, two ladies and a small boy. A window provides a view of a naturalistic landscape painted in rich detail with a stately fortress. A medieval object of such quality as well as completeness is of utmost rarity.

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