Virgin Enthroned

Lower Bavaria (Straubing)
Between 1440 and 1450

Fired red clay, sculpted in the round, remnants of old polychromy
Height 96 cm



This statue of the Virgin modelled from clay is representative of a whole series of Medieval sculptures in clay in the Liebieghaus. The majority of them were produced in Lower Bavaria, where Landshut and Straubing were important centres of clay sculpture. In fact, this figure supposedly comes from a house in Straubing. Clay, with its particular material qualities, was very popular in the age of the Beautiful Style.

Its suppleness predestined it for the flowing, soft forms of drapery. Yet it continued to enjoy popularity in the decades that followed, as the Straubing Madonna—dating from around 1440–1450—demonstrates on a high artistic level. Like the relief of the Trinity or the figure of St John from Nuremberg, this sculpture is typical of the stylistic transformation that began around 1430, which may be thought of as aresponse to a Heightened need for new forms of expression. The constantly repeated compositions and individual motifs from the highly idealized sculptures of the Beautiful S yle no longer satisfied the increasing desire to practise personal devotions. The interest in reality was growing, as was the awareness of more individual forms and a more differentiated reproduction of the world.

These circumstances explain the great breadth of style in art around 1450, but also the reasons why art was not necessarily more realistic—in the present-day sense—than it had been previously. First and foremost, the new concern was with individual solutions that spoke more powerfully to the viewer and offered greater possibilities for identification. Hence the forms of the folds in the Straubing Virgin’s garment are scarcely less stylized than in the case of the figures made in the Beautiful Style. In their distinctive sharp-edged structure, however, they are fundamentally different.