Gift of Revd George Murray at the desire of Revd H. Crowe
Room 40: Medieval Europe
Adoration of the Magi, a limewood panel carving
Medieval, about AD 1505-10
From southern Germany
An altarpiece panel by Tilman Riemenschneider
This panel is likely to have formed the right wing of a much larger altarpiece. It has been suggested that it may have come from the altar of St Anne in the Chapel of the Virgin at Rotherburg ob der Tauber.
It was carved by Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531) one of the last generation of Gothic sculptors in southern Germany, who worked largely in Würzburg, Franconia. Riemenschneider and his workshop produced a large number of altarpieces in wood, but also made tombs and statues, and sometimes working in alabaster and limestone.
The intimate nature of this scene may be slightly misleading. It was adapted from an engraving by Martin Schongauer (about 1450-91) that shows the traditional, large entourage for the Magi. Since the third bearded figure, resting on his staff and positioned behind the Virgin Mary, is likely to be Joseph, Riemenschneider's Adoration probably extended to an adjacent panel. This would have contained the third king and developed the theatrical display normally associated with the Epiphany.
Wooden altarpieces at this time were often painted. Many of Riemenschneider's works were only varnished and this example lacks any traces of paint apart from around the eyes.
J. Chapuis, Tilman Riemenschneider: master (Yale University Press, 1999)
J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)
C. Lichte, Riemenschneider Collection, Ma (Germany, Prestel, 2004)