High Altar for Duke Albrecht V of Bavaria
Germany (completed 1572)
Carved and Polychrome/Gilded Wood, Oil on Wood Panels
Height: Predella: 43 cm. (16 15/16 in.).
Width: Overall: 328 cm. (129 3/8 in.); Predella: 104 cm. (40 15/16 in.)
Around 1560-70 Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire, shocked by the continuing threats of iconoclasm and, perhaps, chastened by Protestant criticism of religious art, commissioned relatively few new, non-memorial paintings and sculptures for their churches. Most new works were intended for private devotional use.
The revival of large-scale Catholic religious art occurred only rarely before the 1580s. One exception was the monumental high altar commissioned by Albrecht V, Duke of Bavaria (r. 1550-79) for the Liebfrauenmünster in Ingolstadt. Ordered in 1560 to commemorate the centennial of the University of Ingolstadt (1572), whose students worshipped in this church, it was the first true Counter-Reformation altarpiece in Germany.
Hans Mielich, Albrecht’s court artist, spent about six years designing the ninety-one different paintings that he and his assistants made for the front and back of this polyptych. It displays a summa of Catholic faith with its insistent emphasis on the Virgin Mary, the church patroness, and, on the reverse, St Catherine of Alexandria, patron of students. In the central panel, the Virgin and Child with angels hover in the air just above the duke and his family. The sculpted Coronation of the Virgin by Hans Wörner (fl. 1576-81) concludes the narrative.
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