Throne of Mercy

Lower Austria
ca. 1520

Fruitwood (pear ?), original partial polychromy
Height 58.5 cm

Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.



God the Father, crowned with the papal tiara, is showing his dead son Christ, marked by the sufferings of the Passion. He presents the corpse to the viewer as a priest hands the faithful the host during Communion: just as the cleric does not touch the consecrated host with his bare hands, so has God the Father covered his hands—with which he is supporting Christ under the arms—with Christ’s shroud. His cape is being held up by two angels and forms a backdrop for the central group of figures. Other angels join in on the side, mourning or—on the left—holding the cross from the Passion of Jesus Christ.

The whole thing takes place in heaven: twisted ribbons of clouds, between which rise four heads representing the directions of the wind, terminate the relief at the bottom. Above Christ and God the father there once hovered a dove, the Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit. According to Church doctrine, only the three of them together represent the Christian God.

The model for the composition was a woodcut of 1511 by Albrecht Dürer. The relief must therefore have a later date. In the sculptural work, the motif of the print was simplified, reduced and at the same time spatially condensed. Stylistically, there are affinities with a circle of sculptors active in Lower Austria, probably in Vienna, in the first third of the sixteenth century. They executed major works at the end of the Late Gothic period, as seen in the high altar of the pilgrimage and parish church St Maria am Grünen Anger in Mauer, near Melk (1509/1518), and the former high altar of the abbey church of Zwettl (1516 – 1525) in present-day Adamov in Moravia. These are works of great expressive power, impressive carving skill and almost confusing compositional density. They are among the most astonishing examples of Late Medieval altarpieces.