These two altar-wings are among the most important works of German painting in the first half of the 15th century. In the 18th century they were in the collection of the Count of Waldburg-Zeil in Schloss Wurzach, hence the name 'Wurzach Altar‛. The outer and inner sides of the wings, which were separated at an earlier period, show two scenes from Christ's Passion and the Life of Mary arranged one above the other. The salvation story is to be read in chronological order, in rows from left to right. However, the question of which scenes were originally outside or inside the wings has yet to be resolved. The scenes of Christ's Passion open with 'Christ on the Mount of Olives‛. The disciples are huddled on the left, asleep, leaving Christ alone on watch. In the background the crowd of pursuers led by Judas is approaching. The subsequent scene, 'Christ before Pilate‛, is dominated by the rampant crowd, with Christ being pushed towards Pilate, who is seen washing his hands to signify that he is innocent of the death of the Lord. Next is 'Christ Bearing the Cross‛ in which Christ strides forward, bent under the burden of the cross. He is followed by Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to help him. Mary, John and the women stand by helplessly, reviled and scorned by Jews and soldiers. Children throwing stones accompany Christ on the way to the place of execution. The sequence concludes with the tranquil scene of the 'Resurrection‛. Christ ascends from the sealed sarcophagus, which is set in a rocky cave. He has raised his right hand in blessing, and bears the banner of the cross in his left hand as a sign of victory. The sleeping watchmen are on the ground around the tomb. The scenes from Mary's life start with the 'Birth of Christ‛. Mary and Joseph are kneeling beneath the roof of the stable, devoutly observing and worshipping the child. Outside in the field, the angel is proclaiming the Lord's birth to the shepherds. Men and women, whose faces express joy, curiosity and amazement are crowded behind the wooden fence on the left. Next is the 'Adoration of the Kings‛. The Magi present the newborn king with gold, frankincense and myrrh in costly vessels. The age and appearance of the kings shows that in them all ages and all regions of the earth that were known at the time are bowing before Christ. 'The Pentecostal Feast‛ shows Mary in the centre of a circle with the twelve Apostles in a chapel-like room. Above them hovers the dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, which is being poured out over the faithful. Its rays form small tongues of fire above the heads of the solemn group. The 'Death of Mary‛ is the concluding panel in this sequence. Mary's dead body lies on the bed around which the Apostles have gathered. Among them is Christ, who has taken Mary's soul to himself. The double signature on the altar wings is unusual. Perhaps the master wanted to make an absolutely firm statement that the work, beyond any doubt, had been painted by his hand alone, and was his creative achievement. Scholars doubted this for a long time because the master, who worked in Ulm, is only named as a sculptor in records.


  • Title: The Wings of the Wurzach Altar
  • Creator: Hans Multscher
  • Date Created: 1437
  • Physical Dimensions: w140.0 x h150.0 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • External Link: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Medium: Oil on fir wood
  • Viewing notes: During his years of travel, Hans Multscher became familiar with the artistic innovations of the Netherlands and the north of France. Back in Germany, he lived and worked in Ulm as a sculptor, painter and modeller. While most artists of the 15th century remain anonymous to us, Multscher stands out for the constant development and progression in his art. He departed from the flowing contours of the 'Beautiful Style' of the International Gothic of his day and pioneered a more severe form of realism. He executed the 'Man of Sorrow' at the Gothic cathedral of Ulm in 1429, along with various altars, as well as the sculptures for the glorious windows of Ulm's town hall. He is considered one of the principle founders of the Ulm School, one of the most important centres of art in the late Gothic period.
  • Style: Svebia
  • Copyright Text: Text: © http://www.prestel.com, Prestel Verlag / Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Rainald Grosshans /, Audio: © Tonwelt / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz // Photo: © http://www.bpk-images.de, b p k - Photo Agency/ Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Jörg P. Anders
  • Collection: Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Artist Place of Death: Ulm, Germany
  • Artist Place of Birth: Reichenhofen, Germany
  • Artist Gender: male
  • Artist Dates: 1400/1467

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