The paintings by the Master of Messkirch – among them the extensive altar cycle of 1535/38 from the Church of St Martin in Messkirch – are exceptional in their colouration. Yet their fascination also derives from the fact that they document regional adherence to the Roman Catholic faith in an era when the Reformation was taking hold throughout most of Württemberg. A chief aim of the Large State Exhibition will be to spark a new awareness of this master’s art-historical significance. Not only was he among the earliest painters of the Catholic Reform, but in his panel paintings he also anticipated all the stylistic devices that would later come to characterize Counter-Reformational art in the age of Confessionalization.
A key work of explicitly Reformational iconography is the so-called Gotha panel altar from the workshop of Heinrich Füllmaurer, which will be on view in our exhibition thanks to cooperation with the Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha. Executed around 1538 for Ulrich, Duke of Württemberg, this winged altarpiece displays an unequalled wealth of imagery in 160 individual depictions. In the framework of our show, it will be returning to its originally intended location – Stuttgart – for the first time in more than 350 years. With its blunt attacks on Roman Catholic pictorial conceptions, it is especially significant against the background of the imagery debate conducted so heatedly during the Reformation.
To help viewers gain a better understanding of these works’ contents, the exhibition will address previous cultural-historical phenomena such as the radical questioning of the pictorial image by a number of reformers, or the practices of the iconoclasts. At the same time, it will feature representative works from the various areas of Reformation art, which responded to the new confessional circumstances by secularizing Christian themes and de-sensualizing imagery with the aid of didactic or polemic text commentaries.
Encompassing nearly 200 objects, the exhibition will shed light on the art-historical impact of the Master of Messkirch and – along with works by artists such as Albrecht Altdorfer, Hans Baldung Grien, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Albrecht Dürer – place his œuvre in the context of its time.
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