Michel Erhart (ca. 1445 - after 1522 )

Bearded Prophet

Michel Erhart, Bust of a prophet with beard, Ulm, ca. 1490
Michel Erhart, Bust of a prophet with beard, Ulm, ca. 1490

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Beardless Prophet

Michel Erhart, Bust of a Prophet, Ulm, ca. 1490
Michel Erhart, Bust of a Prophet, Ulm, ca. 1490

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Michel Erhart

ca. 1445 - after 1522

Michel Erhart, who until the 1930s was entirely overshadowed in art historical scholarship by his son Gregor, is now considered one of the most important Late Gothic sculptors north of the Alps, and a considerable oeuvre has come to be attributed to him. He worked in stone and wood. It is likely that he was trained in the Upper Rhine region and worked there as a journeyman, probably for the most important sculptor north of the Alps at the time: Niclaus Gerhaert van Leiden in Strasbourg. Between 1469 and 1522 Erhart is the sculptor most frequently mentioned in the records in Ulm.
In 1469 he is mentioned for the first time in the tax records for that imperial city. He must therefore have already been a master of his own workshop. His first documented work as a sculptor is also from precisely this time – on the choir stalls of the Ulm Minster, for the construction of which the cabinetmaker Jörg Syrlin the Elder had been commissioned by the City Council in 1469. The majority of the fully three-dimensional and nearly life-size busts of ancient philosophers and sibyls on the sides of the lectern in the choir stalls are attributed to Erhart, as are relief busts of Old Testament figures and several saints. These sculptures formed the basis for his rapid and enduring fame. Numerous commissions followed.
As successor to Hans Multscher, who died in 1467, Erhart is to be considered the most successful, important and influential sculptor in Ulm, the region and far beyond. His sphere of activity extended from Ulm to Lake Constance and into Switzerland, to Bavaria and Austria, and into the Neckar region of Swabia, Franconia and the Black Forest. Numerous sculptors were influenced by him, including his son Gregor and Tilman Riemenschneider. Erhart’s activity as a sculptor is documented until 1516–1517. In 1522 he received a considerable life annuity from the City Council of Ulm, a circumstance which demonstrates that he was highly recognized already during his lifetime. Erhart’s best-known works, apart from those for the choir stalls in Ulm, are the figures on the high altar of the Benedictine monastic church Blaubeuren (1493–1494), which rank among the outstanding works of Late Gothic sculpture north of the Alps, and numerous monumental crucifixes, for example those in Schwäbisch Hall (1494) and Landshut (1495). The figures for the huge high altar of the Ulm Minster, probably his most influential work during his lifetime, fell victim to the iconoclasm of 1531.

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