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December 06, 2011

Getty Museum Acquires Rare Late-Medieval German Sculpture

The nearly life-sized 16th-century St. John the Baptist by the Master of the Harburger Altar was acquired at auction on December 6, 2011

MEDIA CONTACT:               
Amy Hood
Getty Communications
(310) 440-6427


LONDON and LOS ANGELES—The Getty Museum announced today that it made a successful bid at auction for an extraordinary rare sculpture of St. John the Baptist carved in limewood by the accomplished Master of the Harburger Altar in about 1515. The piece was purchased at Sotheby’s in London on December 6, 2011.
The sculpture, nearly 60 inches tall, depicts St. John the Baptist standing on a small mound, painted to suggest a grassy hillock, cradling the Holy Lamb who turns toward the saint. St John wears a voluminous cloak over a roughly sewn shift made of a camel’s skin; the camel’s head can be seen resting between his feet. The limewood figure, which still retains considerable areas of original paint, very likely formed part of a carved winged altarpiece, perhaps flanking other saint figures, originally from the church at Schloss Harburg, a castle belonging to the House of Oettingen-Wallerstein, near Nördlingen in Swabia (southern Germany). It is part of a small, well-studied group of sculptures that may have made up the Harburger Altar and that all share the same distinctive sculptural treatment of billowing drapery and broken contours.

St. John the Baptist is an example of highly accomplished carving, in which the figure’s calm pose is contrasted with the twisting and broken silhouettes of the drapery, which in turn includes long smooth surfaces, especially across the saint’s left shoulder. Punches, gouges and chisels were used to create varying textures in the camel’s hair, the lamb’s wool, the long curls of the beard and the dense drapery masses. These techniques suggest the work of an artist trained in the orbit of the renowned and highly influential late-medieval sculptor Veit Stoss (about 1445-1473), active in Nuremberg and Cracow.           

St. John the Baptist
augments the Getty Museum’s collection of medieval sculpture and applied arts and complements its renowned collection of medieval manuscripts and paintings, and German and Austrian stained glass of the medieval and Renaissance period.     

The sculpture will go on public display in early 2012.

Image at top: Saint John the Baptist, about 1515. The Master of the Harburger Altar (active around 1515). Painted and carved limewood. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that includes the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Getty Foundation. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.
The J. Paul Getty Museum collects in seven distinct areas, including Greek and Roman antiquities, European paintings, drawings, manuscripts, sculpture and decorative arts, and photographs gathered internationally. The Museum's mission is to make the collection meaningful and attractive to a broad audience by presenting and interpreting the works of art through educational programs, special exhibitions, publications, conservation, and research.
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