Mediaeval Sculpture In Germany
( Originally Published 1896 )
EARLY RHENISH AND SAXON SCHOOLS. The development of Christian sculpture in Germany began only during the Carlovingian period, and it was even then confined almost exclusively to carving in ivory. In these works we see the imitation both of early Christian and of Byzantine models. The principal centre of this early school was the Monastery of St. Gall, which was the focus of both art and learning during the early Carlovingian period (circa 800 to 900). Among the artists of this monastery, Tutilo was the most famous. The style spread from St. Gall to the monasteries of Germany, such as Reichenau and Hildesheim, which took in hand the task of spreading culture in Rhenish, and especially Saxon, Germany. With the advent of the dynasty of the Othos, in the tenth century, there was a great development of art in these two provinces, resulting in the establishment of two distinct schools, from which sprang all those which afterwards came to exist throughout Germany. Great cathedrals and monastic churches were erected, surpassing in size all contemporary structures in the rest of Europe; and yet there was no corresponding development of monumental sculpture at the beginning of this period. It is interesting to note that ivory carving, which continued to monopolize the best efforts of the sculptor, developed on entirely different lines from the few known specimens of large monuments.
The Rhenish and Saxon schools of the tenth century revert directly to early Christian and Byzantine originals without the mediation of Carlovingian influence. It is easy to explain the double current. On the one hand, the assumption of imperial dignity, the expeditions of the Othos to Italy, the consequent familiarity with the remains of classic and early Christian art, made a deep impression upon the upper clergy, who were the directing force in the renovation of German art. On the other hand, the marriage of Otho II. to the imperial Byzantine princess Theophanu, with the consequent advent of Byzantine artists and works of art, and the close intercourse with Constantinople, exercised a strong influence on the formation of more than one branch of German art, notably such branches of industrial art as ivory carving and small work in gold, silver, and bronze, as well as enamel.
Some of the German work of the early Saxon school is so perfect a reproduction of early Christian or Byzantine work as to make deception possible. There is the same choice and arrangement of figures, treatment of drapery, and style of ornament. Examples of this are the reliquary of Emperor Henry at Quedlinburg, with its similarity to an early Christian sarcophagus; the book-cover of Otho I. at Milan, with its portrait-like figures and Byzantine arrangement of the composition. As original characteristics we find a strong naturalism, an energy of movement, and an individuality of type that foreshadow later Romanesque sculpture. In works like the Crucifixion at Liverpool (with the Maries at the sepulchre below) there is a grace and delicacy that remind one of the best Byzantine work of the time of Theodoric and Justinian. Evidently, there was an idealistic as well as a realistic current. The contemporary Rhenish school was not only far less productive, but its works are lacking in true plastic sense. In this region architecture and painting were the favorite arts, and sculpture never gained a strong foothold until the time of the Gothic cathedrals.
RISE OF MONUMENTAL SCULPTURE. Early in the seventh century we can trace the rise in Saxony of the first school of monumental sculpture Strangely enough, the material in which it worked was not stone, but bronze. The centre of this school was Hildesheim and its founder Bishop Bernward, whose journey to Italy had given him a knowledge of works of ancient monumental sculpture. His admiration for the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius led to his imitation of them in a bronze column with similar spiral bands of reliefs, erected in 1022. Already he had completed in 1015 bronze doors for his cathedral. The thick set figures of the column remind us of the reliquary of Henry the Fowler, while the animated and slender figures of the doors, with their naive directness, are quite unlike any contemporary work, but show interesting and original use of semi-classic drapery, and in the action a trace of the influence of Carlovingian ivories. At the same time that these and other works of monumental sculpture were being executed at Hildesheim, this school developed also the more usual forms of metal work applied to smaller articles of church furniture, such as book covers, candlesticks, sacred vessels, and reliquaries. In general, it must be confessed that, throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries, German artists—even the best of the Saxon school—showed great inferiority in their monumental work as compared with objects of smaller size for which alone good models could be found in Byzantine and early Christian art. The goldsmith school that produced small works in gold, silver, enamel, and bronze had its centre not in Saxony but on the Rhine, and its productions have never been surpassed in beauty and richness. Its creation was due, without doubt, to the direct influence of imported Byzantine models, and perhaps also to emigrant Greek artists.
The monumental sculptor labored, therefore, under a disadvantage. He did not at first become emancipated from the influence of the industrial arts, but produced articles of church furniture in metal —such as doors, altar-fronts, and baptismal fonts. Such are the doors of Augsburg, Verona, and Gnesen, the gold altar-front of Basel, the altar at Goslar, and the font at Merseburg. The magnificent gold altar-front given to the Cathedral of Basel by King Henry H. is not only a good example of an art leaning towards the monumental, but is one of the most conclusive proofs of Byzantine influence at the beginning of the eleventh century. Bronze was soon applied to a style of monument destined to become most popular in the late Middle Ages—the sepulchral slab. One of the earliest and finest works of this kind is the monument of King Rudolph of Swabia (1080) in the Cathedral of Merseburg. In all branches of metal sculpture, Germany easily excelled the other countries of Europe during the entire Romanesque and early Gothic periods.
Of stone sculpture there are but few traces during the eleventh century. Even capitals carved with figures, so common in Italy and France, are rarely found. There are, how-ever, some most interesting examples of sculpture in wood, especially colossal crucifixes in the Munich and Nuremberg museums, and some figures at St. Emmeran, Regensburg. The southern school of Bavaria worked side by side with the Saxon school in all kinds of subjects, and produced quite as remark-able works. On the whole, as we review the development of German sculpture during the eleventh century, we get an impression of disappointment. The sense of a free and creative art given at the beginning was not followed up by a logical development. There was a relapse—on the one hand to barbarism, and on the other hand to a mere imitation of Byzantine models and a reversion to the smaller branches of the art.
TWELFTH-CENTURY SCHOOLS. As the twelfth century opened a change came. Metal sculpture applied to monumental work had had its day, and failed. Stone sculpture began to be used in connection with architecture. Italy and France had both slightly preceded Germany in this happy innovation, which was to work so complete a revolution in the history of sculpture. Shortly after the beginning of the century, German artists conceived a way of connecting the two arts that appears to have been original with them and productive of excellent results. This was the use of iconic statuary in the interiors of cathedrals, especially in the choirs. These statues were adossed to the piers or columns—sometimes even against the walls—and represented empresses and other princely founders or benefactors of the church. Later we find allegorical personages, such as sibyls, joined to these purely historic figures. By the side of the three schools already referred to—the Saxon, the Rhenish, and the Bavarian—there arose a fourth school in Westphalia, which bore some relation to that part of the Saxon school which had its centre in the cities of the Harz Mountains. Its finest work is the famous colossal rock-relief on the Externstein near Horn, representing the Descent from the Cross, in which a weird symbolism is combined with considerable capacity for the expression of emotion. When the school attempted figures on a smaller scale the result was usually crude. During this century the Rhenish school produced little of monumental sculpture, while revelling in the smaller branches of the art—especially in goldsmith work. In the southern or Bavarian school there was a marked decadence, with increased crudity of style and barbarous weirdness of conception. Such works as the portal of the Schottenkirche at Regensburg or the pier in the crypt of Freising show to what length this extravagance could be carried. The secondary schools of Franconia and Alsace show similar tendencies. The only noble works of the period belong to the Saxon school and its neighbors in the Netherlands. The fine traditions of bronze casting are continued in the tomb slabs, such as that of Arch-bishop Frederick at Magdeburg, and a number at Quedlinburg. The summit of perfection was reached in the famous bronze baptismal font executed in 1112 by Lambert Patras, of Dinant, for St. Bartholomew at Liege. The nobility and classic simplicity of its figures anticipated the best qualities of the sculpture of the following century.
THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY. This is the golden age of German sculpture. Never before did it reach such artistic perfection or such power. The more material and unsthetic side of the naturalism that was inherent in the German plastic sense was kept in abeyance by a calm dignity and an idealism that were soon to vanish and by a breadth of execution and of conception that were soon to give way to the preciosity, the love of exact detail, of overloaded decoration, and of strange and exaggerated expressions that characterized late Gothic and Renaissance sculpture in Germany.
This development is contemporary with the corresponding efflorescence of sculpture in France in the service of Gothic architecture. France had started the revolution early in the twelfth century, and in the second decade of the thirteenth had perfected it. Germany was undoubtedly influenced more quickly by the Gothic sculpture of France than by her architecture. Hence a radical difference between the two countries up to the close of the thirteenth century, for German sculpture was until then combined not with Gothic but with pure Romanesque or pointed architecture. Hence we do not find in Germany great cycles of reliefs filling archivolts, tympana, and galleries, ornamenting gables and pinnacles, extending, in fact, over the whole surface of the walls. The monuments are fewer and more sober, less decorative and less individual. There is no attempt to represent in stone the universe in all its aspects and its history. In the interiors are placed statues of the founders or benefactors of the church, between the arches figures of angels, against the walls of the choir the apostles. At the altar is a group of the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St. John; and on the pulpit, reliefs from the Old and New Testament. On the exterior the tympana of the portals sometimes have reliefs representing such subjects as the Adoration of the Kings and the Last Judgment, while against the jambs are figures of the prophets and evangelists, of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, of Adam and Eve, etc. As the century progressed, the cycle of subjects was enlarged under French influence. This century is characterized by the almost complete abandonment of metal, and a resort to the use of stone and, at times, of stucco.
LATER SAXON SCHOOL. The Saxon school again took the lead, but the centre was in the south of the province, and with it was closely connected the Franconian school. In North Saxony (Harz) the style was softer and more graceful, and had more elements both of classic and Byzantine tradition. The more southern, and especially the Franconian, school showed greater strength and individuality. The reliefs of prophets and apostles in the choir of Bamberg are of intense interest for their rare combination of naturalism and tradition. The heads are not merely portrait-like, as in the case of some of the French sculptures in the Ile-de-France, but are full of a life and an energy foreign to the French works, and which were to give way even in these German schools to a calmer and higher ideal. Returning to the North Saxon school, we find that Hildesheim, which led in the earlier period, still remained an important centre. There are great distinction and delicacy in the apostles and angels in stucco of the choir of St. Michael, which dates from the very beginning of this period. The same school is found at Hecklingen and Hamersleben, but its purest and finest development is seen in the simple and classic figures of apostles in the choir of the church of Halberstadt, where the awkwardness of the earlier Hildesheim reliefs has been replaced by grace and harmony of life.
The style of South Saxony, with its heavier and more impassive figures, that remind us sometimes of Niccola Pisano's Pisan pulpit, is exemplified by the pulpit and Crucifixion group at Wechselberg and the famous Golden Gate at the Cathedral of Freiberg—both works of the middle of the thirteenth century—showing the influence of France. The same school produced at the same time that noblest of early German sepulchral monuments, the tomb of Henry the Lion and his wife Mathilda, in the Cathedral of Brunswick. A quite different spirit is shown in the few monuments of the Westphalian school, which fell into exaggeration of sentiment and attitude in its masterpiece—the Cathedral of Magdeburg.
The culmination of German sculpture is reached in the groups of statues in the Cathedrals of Naumburg and Bamberg, executed between 1250 and 1300. The princely men and women, benefactors of the churches, whose portrait statues stand against the piers are the ideals sung by the Minnesingers. There is more realism in some of the Naumburg statues, and greater simplicity. In both, the handling of the rich, heavy drapery is superb and very original; for instance, in the statue of the man who has thrown his long robe over his right shoulder, hiding his left arm in its folds. The most remarkable among the Bamberg statues is perhaps the ancient Sibyl.
LATER RHENISH SCHOOL. At the close of this period a new centre of activity sprang up in the Rhenish province, and showed itself in the earliest sculptures of the Cathedrals of Strassburg and Freiburg. When Gothic architecture finally established its sway in Germany, at the close of the thirteenth century, sculpture had already passed its period of highest perfection. The earliest monuments, it is true, came at the best time (circa 1250), as, for example, the sculptures of the Church of the Virgin at Trier, of Wimpfen im Thal, of Freiburg im Breisgau, and of the Cathedral of Strassburg. While acknowledging the supremacy of the new French Gothic in their architecture, the artists of these churches at the same time modified their sculpture under the same influence. The Rhenish school, especially, copied the lightness and grace of the French work, and substituted individual types for the strong realistic figures of the Saxon school. A further and later development of the same style appears in the numerous sculptures of the Cologne Cathedral. In these works we find the same multiplication of minute figures in archivolts and reliefs as in France, but the exaggeration of this style is reached during the fourteenth century by the school of Nuremberg, which is far more characteristically German. Here there are usually no large portal statues to g i v e strength and breadth to the composition. There is a great expanse of reliefs, with many small figures which seem but the enlargement of ivory carvings. This style of the Nuremberg school exercised a wide influence. Some parts of Germany retained the massive style which was but a development of the old Saxon school. A good example of this is the decorations of the Cathedral of Magdeburg.
RISE OF NATURALISM. As the time of the Renaissance approached, naturalism again became the predominant characteristic of German sculpture, and its temporary union with architecture was severed forever.Except in the Rhenish province, it had never been a success. The invasion of realism led to the increased use of color in connection with sculpture, and to the adoption of wood as the favorite material. The masterpieces of the new school are altar-pieces, often of most elaborate composition, with a tendency to exaggerated dramatic effects in the expression and attitudes, to overloaded details in the backgrounds and the accessories, to a loss of purity of outline in mass and detail. Individual artists now came to the front and established schools. The change from the Gothic to the naturalistic style took place about the middle of the fifteenth century.
EXTANT MONUMENTS. The best examples of the ivory sculptures of the Carlovingian period can be studied in the following museums : Louvre, Cluny, and Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris ; British Museum and South Kensington, London ; and in the Berlin Museum. Monumental sculpture is to be studied in the churches. Besides the churches, however, there are a few museums of great value for monumental sculpture, especially the national museums of Munich and Nuremberg.