Limewood, traces of gold gilding
Height 93 cm
The Virgin Mary stands on the globe and seems to be rising to heaven with a spiral motion. The back of the figure seems insubstantial and rather reminiscent of clouds. The impression of incorporeality and the contrast between it and the ample female body were brought out more strongly by the original gilding of the statue, of which only traces remain. With this statue, the sculptor Matthias Steinl gave visual form to a Biblical quotation from the Book of Revelation: “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” This “apocalyptic woman” is generally identified in the visual arts with “Maria Immaculata”, that is to say the Virgin undefiled.
From the mid seventeenth century onwards, the Virgin Mary had been the patron saint of the archdukedom of Austria, and subsequently of the imperial house of Habsburg as well. This Immaculata by Steinl was probably his design for a victory column to celebrate the triumph of the imperial troops over the Turkish army in 1683.
The sculptor, who is thought to have been born in t e Salzburg area and was equally at ease with wood, stone and ivory, probably spent time in Germany, France and Italy during his years as a journeyman. He finally settled in Vienna in 1688. Perhaps he made the sculpture shown here in the hopes of gaining entry to the court through this impressive demonstration of his skill. Under Emperor Leopold I, the first of his three imperial masters, he was appointed to the post of court ivory carver.