The Rimini Mission

11/3/2021–4/24/2022

MATERIAL
HISTORY
CONSERVATION

The Rimini Altarpiece

About the exhibition

It is one of the world’s most important late medieval works of art made of alabaster and a major work in the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung: the Rimini Altarpiece (c. 1430). Currently, following extensive conservation, it is once again on view in the museum’s outstanding permanent exhibition. Over the past four years, a wide range of conservation measures have been carried out on the Rimini Altarpiece, primarily a particularly gentle surface cleaning using laser technology as well as gypsum-saturated agar gel compresses. In addition, a comprehensive art-technological examination of the work was carried out. Not only were fundamental insights into the technical construction of the altar gained, but further scientific research by the BRGM (Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières) in Orléans also revealed the region where the alabaster stone was quarried – results that will provide new impetus for art historical research into the oeuvre of the Master of the Rimini Altarpiece. In a concentrated special exhibition, the results of this international conservation project will be made impressively visible to the public. In four sections, the Liebieghaus conservators, Harald Theiss and Miguel González de Quevedo Ibáñez, and Stefan Roller (Head of the Medieval Collection) explain the characteristic properties of the material alabaster, as well as the individual steps of the art-technological analysis. In addition, they illustrate the challenges of conserving this highly sensitive material and address questions of sculpture technique, as well as the original colouration of the artwork. The highlight of the special exhibition is the presentation of the masterpiece in a custom-made 4.0 × 3.5-metre display, the form of which is based on contemporary Dutch altars.

The exhibition ‘THE RIMINI MISSION’ is supported by the Kulturfonds Frankfurt RheinMain gGmbH, and received additional support from the Städelscher Museums-Verein. The preparatory conservation work and the publication were made possible by the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung. A publication has been published by Deutscher Kunstverlag to accompany the exhibition, summarizing the results of several years of research supplemented by art historical contributions. It is the first monograph on the Crucifixion Altar from Rimini.

Curators: Dipl.-Rest. Harald Theiss (Head of Conservation, Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung) and Dr. Stefan Roller (Head of the Medieval Department, Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung)

More about the project

    The Artwork

    ʻThe Rimini Altarpiece is to this day one of the most elaborate and best-preserved late medieval figure ensembles made of white alabaster.Scientific interest in it continues unabated’, remarks Stefan Roller, the head of the Medieval Department at the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung. The Rimini Altarpiece is one of the most elaborate and best-preserved late medieval figure ensembles made of white alabaster. The centre is a Crucifixion of Christ made of several blocks, flanked on each side by six apostles. The fully rounded and once partially coloured sculptures originate from a retable in the pilgrimage church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Rimini-Covignano. They were, however, created in the southern Netherlands around 1430, possibly in Bruges. The great art-historical importance and the uniqueness of the Rimini Altarpiece is indicated by the fact that, internationally, the work lends its name to a large part of the alabaster sculptures of the early fifteenth century. The artist attribution ‘Master of the Rimini Altarpiece’ can thus be found in museums and art collections from Warsaw, Berlin, Munich, and Barcelona to Paris, London, New York, and Los Angeles.

    The highly idealized sculptures of the Rimini Altarpiece largely follow the characteristic formal aesthetics of the so-called Beautiful Style, which is also known as the International Style due to its Europe-wide spread between c. 1380 and 1430. However, the realistic rendering of several of the anatomical and physiognomic details of the two crucified criminals indicates a stylistic change. A new interest in the observation of nature is evident here, which can also be observed in the Dutch painting of Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin, and Rogier van der Weyden at the time and was ground-breaking for the art of the following decades.

    According to Stefan Roller, the head of the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlungʼs Medieval Department, ‘The new presentation does justice to the considerable art-historical status of the Rimini Altarpiece. Just as the Mount Calvary and the apostles benefited immensely from their conservation, they now also profit from the new display. It serves to frame, structure, and accentuate them and – quite in keeping with the conception of the medieval patrons and carvers – provides a fitting stage for the Crucifixion as a core element of the Christian history of salvation, and one which heightens the impact of the depiction by introducing a vividly dramatic dimension.’

    The Conservation Project in an Exhibition

    ‘No scientific work has hitherto been concerned explicitly with the material and working methods used for the Rimini Altarpiece object group – a desideratum. The sculptural properties of the material alabaster and the artistic-technical production process together yield a great amount of information that can be exceedingly helpful for the reliable assessment of the works of the Rimini Master’, remark Harald Theiss, the head of the Liebieghaus conservation workshop, and the conservator Miguel González de Quevedo Ibáñez about their scientific objectives. The conservation project, which began in 2017 and was funded by the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung as part of the ‘Kunst auf Lager’ (Art in Storage) initiative, is now coming to a close with the special exhibition and the accompanying publication. The Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung acquired a laser especially for cleaning the highly sensitive material. The public was able to follow the work in the museum’s demonstration workshop and through educational and mediation opportunities. In recent years, together with further conservation measures, distortive additions to the work of art which, from today’s perspective, were questionable from a conservation point of view, were remedied.

    In the exhibition, the damage to the Rimini Altarpiece is presented in detail, and an overview is given of the complicated conservation requirements that were often not recognized, taken into account, or misinterpreted when treating alabaster in the past. The method developed by the conservation team of Harald Theiss and Miguel González de Quevedo Ibáñez and tested by external scientists using lasers and plaster-saturated agar gel compresses is explained and comprehensibly illustrated with numerous work samples. It is explained step by step how this procedure made it possible to clean the delicate alabaster without damaging it in any way. Furthermore, it is explained why and how the additions from more recent times, which were in need of revision, as well as numerous repaired fractures, were remedied and renewed. The art-technological examination of the Rimini Altarpiece also revealed numerous unanswered questions about the sculptural production process, the original optical appearance of the surface finish, and the colouration of the medieval alabaster sculpture. The scholars were able to provide initial answers to these questions with an experimental sculptural reconstruction of the figure of the apostle Bartholomew from the altar ensemble that was supported by the Städelschen Museums-Verein e.V. A detailed practical study of the surface finish and colouration of first-class medieval alabaster works completed the research.

Gallery

The conservation of the Rimini Altarpiece

Around the exhibition

  1. Research & Journal

    THE RIMINI MISSION – Art-Historical Questions, Insights, and Assertions
  2. Research & Journal

    The conservation of the Rimini Crucifixion Altarpiece
  3. Masterpieces

    Highlights of the medieval collection