VISCHER, Peter the Younger
(b. 1487, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

Shrine of St Sebald

Sebaldskirche, Nuremberg

The attachment to Gothic forms and traditions in the first decades of the 16th century is remarkably illustrated in the great bronze shrine of St Sebald of the Church of the Saint in Nuremberg. Here we find purely Gothic housing, architectural design and figures suddenly combined with small individual sculptures by the Vischer workshop that are truly Renaissance in spirit and of extremely high quality.

Peter Vischer the Younger's greatest contributions were made for the Sebaldus Tomb in Nuremberg, including countless wax models for many, if not all, of the figures that peopled this complex monument. The intention of the original commission by the Nuremberg Council was to provide a large, brass, tabernacle-like cage to protect the relics of the patron saint contained in the shrine, a sloped-roof coffin of silver and silver-gilt over wood, dating from 1391-97. A 1488 drawing, or the wooden model (destroyed) made after it, provided the fundamental idea: the cage concept, the protective series of 12 Apostles, and the reliefs on the base with episodes of the life of the saint. Peter Vischer the Elder was commissioned to reactivate the project in 1507 and directed work on the tomb until its completion in 1519; an interruption from 1512 to 1514 may have been the result of a shortage of funds or the simultaneous commission from Emperor Maximilian I for work on his tomb-monument (Innsbruck, Hofkirche).

The striking changes in the Sebaldus project included a reduction in the height of the canopy, the use of snails and dolphins to support the whole structure, the rich amalgam of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architectural detail, and the dark patination throughout. The multitude of figures, large and small, scattered about the base and within the canopy, were newly invented by Peter the Younger and reflect the style and technique of the great Paduan master of the small bronze statuette, Andrea Riccio. The mythological, allegorical, biblical, and other subjects include the Four Heroes of Antiquity, the Cardinal Virtues, planets, tritons, sirens, putti, small dogs, harpy candle brackets, and Old Testament prophets. Originally modelled in wax, these figures convey a rare animation, expressiveness, and, in certain instances, humour.

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