(b. ca. 1460, Osterode, d. 1531, Würzburg)

Seated Bishop

c. 1495
Limewood and gray-black stain, 90 x 36 x 15 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Late medieval limewood sculptors in South Germany, of whom Tilman Riemenschneider was one of the most gifted, adopted the practice of allowing the sculptures of large altarpieces to go unpainted. They chose instead to stain a few details in black, such as the eyes in this figure, and to finish the surface with a clear glaze. The lack of attributes makes the identification of this bishop uncertain, but his seated position may indicate that he represents one of the four Church Fathers, either St Augustine or St Ambrose, the only two with the rank of bishop.

The scale and the positioning of the head indicate that the figure occupied the left side of a central shrine of a small altarpiece possibly dedicated to these early leaders of the Church. Although it is actually a high relief, this sculpture conveys a striking sense of volume through a rich play of interconnecting curves. The sensitive and descriptive rendering of the elderly face achieves both psychological depth and spiritual weight.