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Unique insights into a monastery church and school

Alpirsbach Monastery

Altar of Mary at Alpirsbach Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Dirk Altenkirch
LATE GOTHIC MASTERPIECE IN THE MONASTERY CHURCH

THE ALTAR OF ST. MARY

Only traces remain of the monastery church's once majestic and lavish decor. All the more cause for celebration that the late Gothic altar of St. Mary, which is one of at least eight original recorded altars, has survived the centuries.

Detail of altar of St. Mary at Alpirsbach Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Dirk Altenkirch

Coronation of Mary, flanked by saints.

LATE GOTHIC MASTERPIECE FROM AN ULM STUDIO

The late Gothic winged altar was created by Ulm sculptor Nikolaus Weckmann between 1520 and 1525. The fame of this Ulm master extended far beyond city limits over his lifetime. He maintained a large studio with numerous apprentices and assistants, with whom he produced a huge number of masterpieces. It has been proven that Weckmann worked with the most famous Ulm painters responsible for the altar paintings, which Weckmann then adorned with sculptures.

Visitors at the altar of St. Mary at Alpirsbach Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Niels Schubert

The central figures are almost life-sized.

ORIGINAL LOCATION UNKNOWN

Today, the altar of St. Mary stands in the north transept of the monastery church. This is likely not its original location. Due to the St. Mary theme, it was long assumed that it must have once stood in the dismantled Chapel of St. Mary. However, the dimensions of this tall winged altar make this rather unlikely.

FROM MARY'S LIFE

The paintings on the winged altar, in its opened state, depict scenes from Mary's life. The sides vividly depict a the coronation, annunciation and visitation of Mary. In its closed state, the wing exteriors depict two scenes from the Passion: the flagellation and crowning with thorns. The artist responsible for these paintings is unknown. They were drawn as lightly outlined charcoal drawings, filled in with brown paint and highlighted in white.

Scene from the altar of St. Mary at Alpirsbach Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Dirk Altenkirch
Scene from the altar of St. Mary at Alpirsbach Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Dirk Altenkirch
Scene from the altar of St. Mary at Alpirsbach Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Dirk Altenkirch

Crafted in the smallest detail.

Closed altar of St. Mary at Alpirsbach Monastery. Image: Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Baden-Württemberg, Dirk Altenkirch

Impressive even without paint.

WOOD OR PAINT?

Several altars were created in southwest Germany circa 1500; these, however, remained "unfinished," deliberately devoid of paintings. Wooden figures and surfaces were coated in colorless paste and only a few details, such as the face or ornamentation along clothing seams, were accented with color. These altars represent a new aesthetic. This conservative use of materials was a kind of reform movement aiming to counter the pomposity within churches.