Two Unknown Late Gothic Reliefs from the Collections of the National Gallery in Prague
Two Late Gothic reliefs from the National Gallery's collections will be presented within the Artwork of the Season series of exhibitions. Both pieces can be classed with the finest accomplishments of medieval sculpture in Central Europe. Recently, the reliefs underwent a complex restoration.
The superb statue of the Seated Virgin Mary entered the collections of the National Gallery in Prague in 2001 from a private Prague collection. At the time, it was not yet clear that a wood carving of such artistic value was concealed under the unsightly polychromy. Only after its removal an analysis of the sculpture's style could be performed, attributing the work to the Master of the Kefermarkt Altar (active ca. 1470-1510), a wood carver recognized as one of the most accomplished Central European followers of the artistic legacy left by the Netherlandish sculptor Niclaus Gerhaert van Leyden (d. 1473 in Vienna). Apart from the altarpiece preserved in Kefermarkt, Upper Austria, only very few statues are housed in European collections that can be unequivocally attributed to that master and that compare in terms of their quality to the Seated Virgin. Of particular note among those sculptures is a figure of a deacon in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The second of the two reliefs on view - The Nativity - was originally housed in the Corona Sanctae Mariae monastery in the Moravian village of Třebařov near Krasíkov. The superb wood carving entered the National Gallery in Prague from a private collection in Moravia back in 1934, but this is its first public presentation. The relief was produced during the first third of the 16th century in a woodcarver's workshop in Olomouc, now referred to as the Workshop of the Madonnas of Olomouc. Other fine-quality, stylistically related sculptures originated in that workshop, among them the Madonna of Jevíčko (ca. 1500), the Madonna of Jedlová (1507-510) and the Madonna of Hradčany-Kobeřice (ca. 1510). Besides Stanislav Thurzo, Bishop of Olomouc (in office 1497-1540), the workshop was probably also associated with Ladislav of Boskovice (1455-1520), an erudite humanist with Italianate taste, on whose estate most of the workshop's sculptures were preserved.
The current display of the two artworks allows visitors to have a glimpse of the interdisciplinary collaboration between the curator-art historian, conservationist and chemist. Through pictorial documentation, the process of the conservationist's restoration work is recorded from the moment the piece is disassembled, the layers of grime, unsuitable additions and overpaintings are removed, and its components conserved, to the artworks' re-assemblage, solidification and retouching. The wood carvings are consolidated to the extent permitted by their state of preservation. The resulting restoration and conservation work can be compared with the documentation of the sculptures' condition prior to restoration. Visitors will also be able to view the actual sizes of the examined samples of wood and polychromy, as well as the findings brought by the conducted research.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book with illustrations.