10th Tiberius Auction
Height 90 cm
This depiction refers to the Revelation of John, which describes a war in heaven between angels led by the archangel Michael against the devil. Based on interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, the name Lucifer (“morning star”, according to Isaiah 14:12) has been associated in Christian tradition with Satan and his fall from heaven.
Here the warlike Archangel Michael is depicted in Roman-like armour and an open, billowing cloak. He is pushing down Lucifer, a creature with sharp claws, pointed ears and a grimacing face, with one booted leg. His right hand is clasped in front of his chest, the left stretched out in front of his body. Here he probably held the flaming sword or spear, or the scales, indicating his role as judge at the Last Judgement. The waving drapery as well as the twisted figure of the opponent writhing on the ground lend the group of figures a lively dynamism and immediacy. The billowing hem of Michael’s robe, splendidly gilded on the inside in contrast to the rest of the wood-faced figure, directs the viewer’s gaze to Lucifer.
With hands and feet, the devil fights the archangel, who, however, has already defeated him. His clawed hands grasp at the hem of his clothing; with his still human feet he tries to push the attacker away from him. Lucifer is depicted naked, with the ribcage showing under the skin. His furrowed face features oversized proportioned ears and was once adorned with inserted horns. The large, deep-set eyes are wide open, a prominent frown line leads down to the broad nose and culminates in a wide-open mouth with a row of huge-looking teeth. The mouth is contorted into a grimace and seems frozen in a scream.
In contrast, Saint Michael’s physiognomy is idealised, with shoulder-length curly hair, a high forehead, narrow arched eyebrows, large almond-shaped eyes, and a closed mouth. Entranced, he looks straight ahead, his victory over the devil seemingly effortless. Overall, the saint’s powerful posture conveys an inner calm that effectively represents the archangel’s disposition. The voluminous mantle surrounding him creates a contrasting element of movement; at the back, two recesses indicate that Michael’s majestic wings were once attached here.
It is probably a work from the circle of Veit Stoß (Horb am Neckar c. 1447 – 1533 Nuremberg), a master sculptor of the late Gothic period, as it is particularly related to his late work from the Nuremberg period. There is a great stylistic similarity with the group of guardian angels, the Archangel Raphael and the young Tobias, from the Dominican Church in Nuremberg of 1516 (Germanisches Nationalmuseum Pl.O.2720, Pl.O.1834). This is particularly striking in the gentle modelling of the folds, interspersed with moving elements that enliven the depiction. The softly curved fold seams are equally comparable to the house Madonna from the carver’s residence c. 1499/1500 (Germanisches Nationalmuseum Pl 0107).
Michael Baxandall, The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany, New Haven 1980.
Ellen Schultz (ed.), Gothic and Renaissance Art in Nuremberg, New York 1986.
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