Research: Gothic sculpture in Germany

Gerokreuz Gero Cross or Gero Crucifix, around 965–970, Cologne Cathedral,Germany (carved in oak, and painted and partially gilded, 187cm high, span of the arms is 165 cm, photo by Schmölz, Karl Hugo: Gerokreuz, Kopf 1947

Gerokreuz, photo by Schmölz, Karl Hugo 1930

Gerokreuz, upper body

My sister had a book on German art, in which the Gothic art struck me most. I now see why Ernst Barlach‘s art is so often labelled as strongly reminiscent of German Gothic sculpture.

All the sculptures shown here are religious in their nature. They are expressive: The carving is stark and simplified but to heighten the effect, colour is applied as well.

The expressiveness had a purpose: Looking at the expressions of pain, sorrow or beauty people were supposed to feel a mystic connection and feel the pain of the body or the soul or be in awe of the heavenly beauty (especially of Mary, who’s often depicted either carrying the child or mourning her dead child).

The faces of men often seem elongated and somewhat flat and static – at least compared to e.g. Rodin, whose faces often seem to move. The hair is highly stylized, often in a uniform pattern.

Gerokreuz, Picture by Cologne Dome/Koelner Dom

Lesepult (reading podest?), mid 12th century, willow wood with tempera on chalk ground, 120cm high, Stadtkirche Freudenstadt (city church)

Sigmaringer Christus-Johannesgruppe (Johannesminne, Andachtsbild, German term for art work designed to serve private devotion), around 1320, oak, 89 cm high, probably from Augustinerinnen-Chorfrauenstift Inzigkofen, sold in 1909 to the Skulpture collection of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, since 2006 at Bode-Museum Berlin

This Chist-John-Group is different from the earlier Gothic sculpture shown here. It seems influenced by Roman sculpture, as the rendering of the faces, hair etc is more natural, however it retains the expressiveness – the awkward and slightly stiff pose giving nonetheless a melancholic and calm impression.

Pietà Roettgen, around 1300 to 1350, 89 cm high, painted wood. Made in the Mainz region of Germany, Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn

This is probably the starkest of all the sculptures shown here. Mary mourns the dead, terribly wounded meagre Christ in this Pieta group. It looked so modern in its individuality and grotesqueness that I initially doubted that it was a medieval piece at all. The plinth with the flowers were the only thing that kind of gave it away to my eyes. Modern sculptures don’t tend to embellish the plinth with further detail. While sculpture often shunned paint I think it works really well with these pieces.

I am doubtful however if a freshly and cleanly painted sculpture – like they all must have initially been – wouldn’t look a bit “garish”. The worn paint on the Madonna’s face has a great effect, but would a clean paint work that well?

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