PACHER, Michael
(b. ca. 1435, Bruneck, d. 1498, Salzburg)

St Wolfgang Altarpiece

Polychrome pine
Parish Church, Sankt Wolfgang

In Austria - the natural route of Italian influence into central Europe - the Tyrolean painter Michael Pacher, influenced by Paduan and Venetian art, employed a sculptural rendering of form and a deep rendering of perspective which were monumental in style.

This is a double-transforming altarpiece (Wandelaltar) with two pairs of movable wings, making three distinctly different views for use on various different occasions - every day, Sunday, high holy days. The core of it is an elaborate piece of lindenwood sculpture, depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, which is flanked by four scenes from the life of Mary. When these painted wings are closed, two rows of paintings concerned with Christ's public life and ministry appear - four over four. When the altarpiece is completely closed, four scenes from the life of St Wolfgang appear, flanked by the carved figures of two saints in armor - George and Florian. A carved Crucifix with Mary, John, the Archangel Michael, and the Magdalene are in the elaborate Gesprenge at the top, and are visible at all times, while the Adoration of the Magi, a relief carving, appears at the foot of the altarpiece (the Staffel).

The contract for the altarpiece was signed in 1471, and Pacher himself had to deliver the work, signed 1481, to St Wolfgang and to install it.

In this work the crowning of Mary interweaves with the rich forms of the tracery into a unified pattern of lines, and light and shade create the suggestion of unlimited depth. The life-size figures, in particular those of St Wolfgang and St George beside the closed shrine, reveal Pacher as a contemporary of Verocchio and Pollaiolo: both north and south of the Alps efforts were being made to depict the human figure moving in space and seen from different angles.

While Pacher in his capacity of carver introduces elements of this art into painting, the painter in Pacher uses his insight into carving to deal with surface.

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