Tilman Riemenschneider (ca. 1460 - 1531)

Virgin Mary

Tilman Riemenschneider, Virgin Mary, Würzburg, ca. 1520
Tilman Riemenschneider, Virgin Mary, Würzburg, ca. 1520

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Tilman Riemenschneider

ca. 1460 - 1531

Tilman Riemenschneider is surely the most popular German sculptor of the Middle Ages and one of the best known German artists in general. He is widely seen as virtually synonymous with the German sculpture of the Late Gothic. It is not known where he trained as a sculptor. His early works, such as an alabaster Annunciation group in Amsterdam (1484), a seated Jerome with lion in Cleveland and the statuette of St. Barbara in the Roseliushaus in Bremen, reveal how important the sculpture of the Upper Rhine (Niclaus Gerhaert van Leyden) were for Riemenschneider’s style and conception of form.
Riemenschneider moved to Würzburg in 1483. In 1485 he received the title of master craftsman. Over the years he became the most successful sculptor in that city and its diocese. His workshop produced many works verified by archival documents and an almost incalculable number of others that can be attributed on the basis of style. Such Riemenschneider sculptures as the sandstone statues of Adam and Eve in the Marienkapelle in Würzburg (1491–1493); the carved retables for Münnerstadt (1490–1492), Rothenburg ob der Tauber (1499–1504) and Creglingen (1505–1510); and tomb monuments for the Prince-Bishops Rudolf von Scherenberg (1496–1499) and Lorenz von Bibra (1518–1522) in the Cathedral of Würzburg or the tomb of the emperor in the Cathedral of Bamberg (1499–1513) are among the most famous works of Late Gothic art. In addition to his fast-growing reputation as an artist, Riemenschneider was also held in great esteem socially, as is evident from the political functions to which he was appointed. Between 1504 and 1520, for example, he was a member of the City Council and Mayor.
He owed his ability to pursue public and professional careers in parallel to the efficient organization of his workshop: his journeymen imitated the master’s style so well that Riemenschneider’s “products” were recognizable as such even when he himself had little or no hand in them. From about 1510 onwards, many works were executed by his assistants alone. His entire production from the early sixteenth century onward aimed for a repeatability of certain types of figures, specific drapery motifs or even entire compositions. Riemenschneider and his workshop worked in both stone and limewood. Many of his works dispensed with the traditional polychromy of medieval sculpture, replacing it with highly differentiated surface structures, partial colouration and transparent coatings.

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