(b. ca. 1400, Reichenhofen/Allgau, d. 1467, Ulm)

Holy Trinity

c. 1430
Alabaster, partly painted, 28,5 x 16,3 cm
Liebieghaus, Frankfurt

The turning point between the 'Schönen stils' (beautiful styles), with their gentle, almost abstract idealization, and late Gothic realism is marked by a small high relief in the Liebighaus in Frankfurt. An angel holds the dead or dying Christ, preventing him from falling to the ground. Christ's head with the crown of thorns falls sideways, his mouth and eyes slightly open, and his arms hang limply down at his sides. On the angel's right stands God the Father, his hand raised in blessing. Between his head and that of Christ is the dove representing the Holy Ghost. The relief has lost its original surround which, possibly adorned with tracery, would have emphasized the sculptural content of the image by giving it a spatial setting.

It is above all the in the execution of the body of Christ that the sculptor's close observation of nature is most apparent. A dense network of veins spreads over arms and legs, the collarbone and ribs are anatomically correctly formed, and a fine double fold above the navel underlines the naturalistic approach to the human body. This is further enhanced by the coloring, with the skin rendered in various tones - bluish shadows, veins clearly picked out, and the bleeding wounds painted red. Similarly, the faces and hands of God and the angel have a strongly three-dimensional presence and naturalistic coloring. There is a contrast between the flesh colors and the alabaster, uncolored except for the gilded hems of the robes of God and the angel. It is the special quality of this stone that it does not reflect light with a crystalline hardness. Penetrating the translucent stone, light becomes a milky glow that seems to come from within the material itself. This makes the garments, which flow together as though to form a foil for the figure of Christ, seem to hold some secret, to suggest an otherworldly realm that gives the presentation of the racked body a background imbued with a secret mystery.

In this work, neither a Trinity nor a Throne of Grace, different components are brought together to carry an unusual density of theological meaning. The most striking feature of this work is the portrayal of of the tormented Christ as a man dying. The sculpture seems to capture the very moment of death, and so gives greater emphasis to his sacrifice. The way in which he is held by an angel, as in a Man of Sorrows, forms a link with the image known as an Angel Pietà. In the Throne of Grace type, God the Father, seated on a throne, holds the cross on which his son is crucified. Between them hovers the dove representing the Holy Ghost. Theologically, this shows the acceptance of the sacrifice through which the divine plan of salvation can be fulfilled.

This relief is stylistically indebted to Late Gothic Netherlandish realism. Multscher was certainly familiar with the iconography and formal idiom of the Schönen stils. It is also likely that he spent several years in Burgundian-Netherlandish regions, where he would have been introduced to the ground-breaking naturalism of the early 15th century.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.