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Bank of America Merrill Lynch enables the restoration of three key works from the fifteenth century

18.10.2018
Bode-Museum

The Skulpturensammlung and the Museum für Byzantinische Kunst of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin are now able to carry out three important restoration projects thanks to a substantial donation from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The works being restored are Michel Erhart’s Thronende Muttergottes mit Kind (Enthroned Madonna with Child, ca. 1480), Antonio Rossellino’s Muttergottes mit Kind (Madonna with Child, ca. 1460) and Luca della Robbia’s Muttergottes mit Kind und zwei Engeln (Madonna with Child and Two Angels, ca. 1430/40), which were either heavily damaged during the Second World War, had become coated with surface grime, had been discoloured by varnish finishes, or were too fragile to be exhibited.

The measures that have already been carried out or are currently underway will help to stabilize the works, as well as significantly improving their appearance. The generous support of Bank of America Merrill Lynch is making it possible for us to now publicly present these major works from the collection in their improved condition.

The works in question are:

Michel Erhart: Thronende Muttergottes mit Kind (Enthroned Madonna with Child) ca. 1480, linden wood, height: 39 cm

This sophisticated sculpture by Michel Erhart (ca. 1440 – after 1522), the leading sculptor in Ulm in the second half of the fifteenth century, demands close observation. Designed as a sculpture in the round, it was presumably intended for private devotion, for the silent prayer of the owner. The incline of Mary’s head and her pensive expression lend the pair an elegiac character, which can be read as an intimation of the Passion. Likewise, Mary’s throne of stone could function as a reference to the burial mound Golgatha.

Since this sculpture is produced to be viewed up close, scratches in the surface and a greyish film covering the entire sculpture resulting from a relatively recent glaze were particularly problematic. The conservational measures that were completed in December 2017 included a reduction of this layer as well as careful retouching. This has created a uniform appearance which no longer distracts the viewer, bringing the unsurpassable aesthetic appearance of this work back to its original grandeur. 

Antonio Rossellino: Muttergottes mit Kind (Madonna with Child) ca. 1460m, marble, height: 75 cm

This relief of the Virgin Mary with child by the Renaissance sculptor Antonio Rossellino suffered heavy fire damage in 1945. In 1958, it was returned to Berlin from the Soviet Union as part of a group of stained fragments mounted on a sheet of marble. The protagonists were still intact, however the majority of the background had been lost, as had the Virgin’s veil, part of her knee, and her halo. Only half of each cherub’s face was preserved – in the form of loose, jumbled fragments. In 2012, the missing elements were reconstructed with the help of a pre-war plaster cast, meaning that for the first time in more than 70 years, Mary’s tenderness towards her child and the harmony of the composition can now once again be appreciated. The historical Renaissance frame that was also destroyed in 1945 was also able to be carefully reconstructed, completing the retransformation of the relief from a ruin into one of the masterworks of the collection.  

Luca della Robbia (?): Muttergottes mit Kind und zwei Engeln (Madonna with Child and Two Angels) ca. 1430/40, painted terracotta, height: 109 cm

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, these lunettes were exhibited in Berlin as key works by Luca della Robbia. Certainly they bear significant similarities to one of della Robbia’s most famous works, the Cantoria, created in the 1430s for the Florence Cathedral, in competition with Donatello. The faces and the drapery possess the smoothness that characterizes della Robbia’s work. However the technique diverges from the rest of the artist’s oeuvre, which has caused a number of scholars to question the authenticity of the work.

After the Second World War, the lunette was in a poor condition. It was kept in the storage facilities of the Bode-Museum in then East Berlin, which prevented detailed analysis by experts. As a result, the work vanished almost completely from the scholarly literature. After German reunification however, numerous scholars made contact with the museum to point out the significance of the piece, which without the in-depth scholarly analysis and careful restoration currently being carried out, could not be fully assessed. Currently, the monochrome finish is being investigated – which needs to be secured, before being restored and laboriously retouched. In order to stabilise the relief, it needs to be taken apart and re-secured. A stainless steel construction is in development which will allow it to later be mounted on the wall.