Virgin Mary
Tilman Riemenschneider

ca. 1520

Grey sandstone, remnants of old polychromy
Height 156.5 cm



This flat, relief-like figure originally served as the “house Madonna” on the façade of the Collegiate Curia of the Neumünster (“New Cathedral”) in Würzburg. As is so often the case, there are no written sources to indicate who made the sculpture when and for whom. Scholars agree, however, that it was executed around 1520 in the workshop of Tilman Riemenschneider, today the most popular German sculptor of the Late Gothic period. Tilman settled in the Main River region in 1483 and over the years became the most successful sculptor in Würzburg and its diocese. At the same time, he was assigned various political functions, indicating that he had earned tremendous respect within Würzburg society. Between 1504 and 1520, he was, among other things, a member of the town council and mayor—at a time when his business was also flourishing.

He owed his ability to combine a public career and a professional one to the effective organization of his workshop: the journeymen imitated the master’s style, so that the Riemens hneider “product” remained recognizable as such, even when he had hardly touched it or not at all. From 1510 onwards, many works were executed entirely by assistants. Beginning in the early sixteenth century, production in general was based on the repeatability of certain figural types, individual drapery motifs or entire compositional patterns.

The Liebieghaus Virgin also follows a scheme found in several Madonna figures. The reason for this practise, which was typical of other “large enterprises” of the time as well, was not only economic efficiency. There was also a demand for the recognizability of tried-and-tested “holy” images whose aura was supposed to be transferred to the new works.