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Winged Altarpiece Jörg Lederer


Jörg Lederer Füssen ca. 1470 – ca. 1548/1550 Kaufbeuren

Culture German
Date ca. 1515
Object type winged altar
Medium, technique pinewood retable shrine; carved, painted and gilded limewood figures

180 x 218 x 31 cm
predella: 127 × 31 cm

Inventory number 76.9
Collection Sculpture
On view Museum of Fine Arts, Second Floor, European Sculpture 1350-1800, Gallery 1

This winged altarpiece was carved and painted in Kaufbeuren in Allgäu around 1515, and once stood in the village church of Hinterkirch in South Tyrol. Its master, Jörg Lederer produced many altars for churches in South Tyrol. Master Lederer executed the carved part of these altars in a style resembling Swabian sculpture of the late 15th century. In the central part of the Hinterkirch-altarpiece, under three arcades, the Virgin and Child is depicted in-between St Nicholas and Mary Magdalene. The wings illustrate a scene each from the legend of these saints. The relief on the predella depicts the death of the Virgin. On the outside of the wings, there is a painted Annunciation, whose painter was far less skilled than the sculptor of the altar was.
Miriam Szőcs

Catalogue entry

The sole, almost fully preserved winged altarpiece in the Collection of Sculptures was purchased in South Tyrol by the art collector and politician Bernát Back, a mill owner from Szeged, in the early years of the twentieth century. This small winged altar once stood in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Hinterkirch, whence it was removed when a new chancel was built in 1890. The wings of the altarpiece were closed on weekdays and during Advent and Lent, at which time the faithful could view merely the predella and the Annunciation painted on the outer sides of the wings. On feastdays, the sculptured inner sides of the altar shrine and the wings were revealed, with the iconographic programme being arranged around the figures of Saint Nicholas and Mary Magdalene, thus forming a link with the dual dedication of the church. In the altar shrine, which is decorated with vines and ends in three cusps, we see the two patron saints with the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. Saint Nicholas is wearing a bishop’s vestments, while Mary Magdalene’s clothing reflects contemporary fashion. In her hand she is holding her attribute, a jar of ointment. On the wings the sculptor portrayed a scene from the legends of the saints. On the left side, Saint Nicholas, the bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, presents a gift of gold to an impoverished noble so that he might be able to give his three daughters in marriage. On the right, angels raise Mary Magdalene, who is in prayer, to the heavens. The image of Penitent Mary Magdalene ascending to heaven, usually with the body of the saint covered with her hair only, arose in the late medieval period. Its popularity led Albrecht Dürer to make his woodcut around 1505, which was the precursor and model for the relief in Budapest. On the predella of the winged altar we see a portrayal of the death of the Virgin Mary, an image that became more common from the mid-fourteenth century onwards. The Mother of God is surrounded by the apostles, who are saying the last rites. The background of the reliefs and the niches is decorated with a gilded brocade pattern, but the central part of the decorative crowning has been lost. The master of the Hinterkich winged altar was identified in 1932 by the German art historian Theodor Müller, who recognised the work, which was being exhibited in Budapest at the time, as having been made in Lederer’s workshop in Kaufbeuren around 1515. Jörg Lederer may have been born in Füssen in Allgäu. He moved to Kaufbeuren in the early years of the sixteenth century. His workshop in Kaufbeuren, which became known as the “altar producer”, produced winged altars for churches even in the villages of South Tyrol, which lay at some distance. Lederer himself designed the altars, thereafter contracting several masters for their production, in line with the practice of workshops at the time. The wooden structure was made by a carpenter, while another master was responsible for painting and gilding the statues and reliefs that had been sculpted by Lederer. The surviving sources identify the carpenter Leonhard Widenmann and the painter Peter Zech as masters active in the workshop. The paintings on the wings of the altarpieces were commissioned by Lederer from a trained painter, who was, in most instances, Jörg Mack of Kaufbeuren. However, the latter did not execute the paintings on the wings of the altarpiece of Hinterkirch. Their unknown painter failed to match – in his somewhat crude depiction of the Archangel Gabriel delivering a message to the Virgin Mary – the standard of quality that Lederer had set in his sculptural work. Zsófia Vargyas

This record is subject to revision due to ongoing research.

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