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Virgin & Child Sculpted by Niklaus Weckmann

Virgin & Child Sculpted by Niklaus Weckmann

Works done in the Renaissance period is not only of great importance it is beautiful in conception and design. Virgin and Child by Niklaus Weckmann fits that mold most definitely. The sculpture is located in The Audrey Jones Beck Building and the 201 RECKLING GALLERY. The Audrey Jones Beck “was created to hold the Museum’s collections of masterworks of European art; Renaissance and Baroque art from the Blaffer Foundation; the John A. and Audrey Jones Beck Collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art; prints, drawings, and photographs; and American paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts before 1945.” (MFAH Website). This gallery contains mostly Renaissance pieces of art and sculptures. This gallery is located straight ahead from the entrance and up the escalator. From there you must turn right go down the corridor to the end and then turn right. The sculpture is through the entrance door to the right along the wall. The room is mildly lit exhibiting an orange overtone to enhance the classical work in the gallery. Classical humanism defined the renaissance period and was completely executed in both paintings and sculptures. When the artist wanted to add more realistic features to the art the techniques used were linear perspective, shading and balance and proportion other methods of realism were also mastered. “In medieval Europe, images were generally used to influence piety, prayer, and a closer relationship with God. The depiction of the Virgin and Child sculpted by Niklaus Weckmann the Elder, is a rare example of a lime wood sculpture that has sustained its original paint and gliding, and it represents a vision described in the New testament book of Revelation” as stated in the online article “Connecting to the Work of Art (Renaissance 2018).” Renaissance artists used to portray the human anatomy accurately, they used perspective, and they often displayed the depicted human emotions through gestures and expressions. The high renaissance culture the period roughly spans from about four decades, from 1490 to the sack of Rome in 1527. Here in this time period many of the daring art works were originated either because the artists admires classical art and architecture and used art as a way to show off their classical knowledge. That or the artwork was created for a patron who commissioned these works to make it seem like they were more knowledgeable about the world and its history. You can see this in many of the paintings contained in this exhibit.

The Renaissance movement also brought about much evolution such as the decline of the feudal system and the growth of commerce, the discovery and exploration of new continents, and the invention or application of such potentially powerful innovations as paper, printing. Printing was a huge change during this time, now Europeans had an opportunity to progress even more. In the 15th century, the printing press founded a way to mass-produce and circulate an evolving volume of reading material. Print press also alternated the way people communicated, read, and retained knowledge. Advances in image reproduction were equally monumental, but came much later in the course of history (Renaissance 2018).

The invention and use of the printing press, was one major evolution techniques used to help evolve. With the printing press, there was a greater spread of ideas, and artists could sell multiples of their work. Travel also increased during the High Renaissance; therefore, art became more international. The renaissance era is a very historic period this is when an abrupt change came about for art. The Renaissance was a period of intellectual, scientific, and cultural awakening beginning around the mid fourteenth century in Italy. The Renaissance questioned humans ideas, that is ideas founded in classical Greek and Roman thought, from philosophy and education to art and cultural influence. It was believed during this time that the questioning of ideas lead to exploration, for example like questioning old ideas about earth and how far humans could travel into the unknown (History 2010). The renaissance art brought a brand new twist to art that was much more secular than art of the Middle Ages. It begin as a cultural movement in Northern Italy in the Late Medieval period but it later began to spread to the rest of Europe, which was the beginning of the Early Modern Age. I enjoyed the exhibit as you see many similarities in the work. Many works depicting mother and child, as well as religious items are present. Most rooms are simple square rooms with paintings on the walls and sculptures in the middle of each room. This probably one of the more simplistic galleries at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Each piece of art and piece of art is carefully placed with a nice flow from one piece to the other.

This a sketch of the exhibit (in red) the sculpture is located in 201 the first room

These pictures depict the exhibit itself with the first being the main entrance to the exhibit.

The specific artwork from this exhibit I chose is the depiction of Virgin and Child sculpted by Niklaus Weckmann the Elder. It is a rare example of a lime wood sculpture it originated from Germany between 1500-1510 (MFAH). However, some sources say it was sculpted as early as 1450. The sculpture was an altarpiece. This unique altarpiece is very representative of this period. An altarpiece is a piece of art such as a painting, sculpture or relief representing a religious subject and suspended in a frame behind the altar of a Christian church. Altarpieces were one of the most significant products of Christian art, The Virgin and Child is sculpted altarpiece three-fourths of the way around with a hollow back. The sculpture was originally a part of a large winged altarpiece. Weckmann depicts Mary in a very natural manner, her face has a very relaxed look, Mary body is sculpted in pose gazing down to the Christ child cradling her baby, but not in a very secure way, the Christ child is reaching towards the viewers too, but is not the focus. The previous sentence is descriptive about the altarpiece and it displays many aspects of the renaissance era art features that were stated in the previous paragraph.

Niklaus Weckmann the elder displayed the depicted Mary in a very stylistic way but yet still very ideal. The sculpture has depicted Mary as very noble; it really shows characteristics of how the typical Mary was shown as during that time. The ideal image of Madonna during this period was a women that symbolizes purity, and wearing the color blue (it reflected calm and tranquility), with curly brown hair, draped in formal a gown. Niklaus Weckmann really got into detail with the sculpture hair; he really shows his artistic skills. He took his time to get the curls and the thin lines using a carving technique.

The technique that Niklaus Weckmann used is called woodcarving. Wood carving tools include the following: an unique tool carving knife used to cut and pare the wood; a gouge with a curved cutting edge used for making hollows and curves; a specialist gouge called a veiner, with a U-shaped edge; a straight-edge chisel used for lines; as well as various mallets and hammers.
The article Carving and sculpting explains steps by step how on woodcarving is done, “The sculptor first begins by picking a block of wood appropriate to the shape and scale of his intended design. Then you begin by starting to employ gouges of various sizes, he then goes into further detail to reduce the wood to an approximate shape, which he then refines with a variety of tools like veiners and v-tools.” After hours of those repeated steps, the detailed work is complete. The following step is to smooth the surfaces with tools such as a riffler or rasps, and with different grains of sandpaper. Lastly, to enhance and preserve the sculpture, the sculpture is stained with walnut or linseed oil, and then is finally coated in varnish, resin or wax to complete the sculpture.

Niklaus Weckmann the elder depicted Mary hair in a stylistic way by craving very plunge long brown curls. To give a vague visual of how the Virgin and Child is depicted in this piece again quoting from “Connecting to the work of Art” the passage states Mary has “long ringlets that flow down on both sides of her robe with its realistic folds of fabric cinched together as if it were a drawstring.” Mary hair is asymmetrical in lengths on both sides. She has long brown curls as if there was not a single piece of hair on her head that did not seem to loop up and curl around another one, forming a full body of curls. Niklaus Weckmann the elder displayed highly skilled carving techniques that is depicted in Mary’s curls as well as the baby’s. It also shows in Mary’s detailed facial expressions along with her folds in her robe and collar (Bachler 2013).
Last but least the colors used on this altarpiece were very symbolic. During the high renaissance according to the article ”Renaissance Clothing”, the color red meant high social status, royalty, gentlemen, men of justice, blue represented a young marriageable woman Indigo or deep blue means chastity in the sacred sphere. Mary is depicted in those very vibrant colors, three rich colors blue, red and heavy highlights of gold. Her gown flourishes in this rich red (which symbolizes nobility, elevated status, and Niklaus’ favorite color), and a blue that was traditionally the color for purity but also associated with nobility and high status around this time as well. In addition, the heavy highlights of gold were added for more of a visual reasoning, the color mainly used so that the sculpture would glow in candlelight (the altar would be dark and serene during prayer, so gold was a perfect contrast to the dimness ((Bachler 2013).

All in all the depiction of Virgin and Child sculpted by Niklaus Weckmann displays a miraculous amount of renaissance characteristics. From the techniques used to create the sculpture, down to the simplest detail, which in this case is colors used in the sculpture. This sculpture has a very influential viewpoint on the catholic religion. People today can look at the piece and be reminded of the vision described in the New Testament book of Revelation. The message that by Niklaus Weckmann the Elder will forever stay the same and meaning for catholic/Christianity religions around the world, despite the fact that how we have found a structural profound way to worship and build a connection with God.

I found the piece very inspirational. I loved the detail in the faces of both mother and child. The message I seem to get from the piece of art is one of purity and love. The way he depicts mother holding the child, the way the colors seem bright and vibrant. The child has a smile and is laying relaxed in the arms of the mother. The colors are very noble colors and helps convey a sense of royalty at the same time, simplicity of the sculpture. As I mentioned earlier about Niklaus favored color so to see it on this image it is no surprise. He favored it though, in my opinion, because it made the audience feel more connected to it and its humanist nature. I think Niklaus drew inspiration from his own religious upbringing and the society in which he lived. As I have written about, the Renaissance is a period where his art was very typical and it matched the period perfectly.

I really enjoyed researching this piece of art and learning about the Renaissance period and the unique style that has come from the period. Virgin and Child is a very classical representative from this period for all the reasons we discussed here. The crown and the choice of media also show the Renaissance style. I wish Baytown had exhibits of great art even if for a temporary time as the beauty and design of a piece such as this is remarkable.  The symbolism in the purity of nature. The royalty in the colors such as red and blue.

Works Cited

  • Bachler, Lindsay. “Nikolaus Gerhaert.” Prezi.com, 23 Oct. 2013, prezi.com/9ewuz-xr8bnc/nikolaus-gerhaert/.
  • “History and Iconology.” Madonna and Child; A Digital Art Gallery, 13 Apr. 2010, madonnaandchild.wordpress.com/jasons-essay/.
  • “Renaissance Sculpture.” Western Architecture Timeline | Essential Humanities, www.essential-humanities.net/western-art/sculpture/renaissance/.


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