Provenance: Dr. Fritz Rothmann Collection, London, 1960s. Private collection, Great Britain.
„Salzburger, your statues please me best, more than all others I have seen“.
Empress Maria Theresia on visiting Johann Baptist Hagenauer in his studio.
The greatest love – the most profound pain
A pietà is a depiction of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of Sorrows (Mater Dolorosa), cradling the body of her son in her lap after he had been taken down from the cross. This pictorial tradition emerged in the Middle Ages when there was an intense interest in Christ’s suffering on the cross and the Virgin Mary mourning her son. Through such emotional proximity, the devout strove to identify more closely with the notion of salvation. Pietàs can be found in most Catholic churches. The scene forms the second to last station along the Way of the Cross. The pietà is also known as a Vesperbild in German (lit.: an image venerated at vespers), based on the assumption that the Virgin held the body of Christ on Good Friday roughly at the time evening prayers are said.
A fortunate artist
Johann Baptist Hagenauer is considered one of the most important sculptors of his day. He was born in 1732 in Ainring near Freilassing that came under the Prince-Bishopric of Salzburg. He is artistically extremely talented and soon finds recognition. His uncle Lorenz Hagenauer and the Archbishop of Salzburg, Count Sigismund Schrattenbach provide for him to study at the Royal Academy in Vienna. Schrattenbach also finances a journey to Italy with periods of study in Rome and Florence. After his return, Fortune smiles down on him both with regard to his artistic career and his private happiness. Archbishop Count Sigismund Schrattenbach raises him to the position of Archiepiscopal Gallery Inspector and, in 1764, Hagenauer marries Maria Rosa Barducci. The Italian beauty comes from an artistic family and is herself an artist. She is Hagenauer’s favourite model and the inspiration for the statue of the Virgin Mary on the cathedral square in Salzburg, as well as for numerous other works.
A powerful woman
Emperor Charles VI changes the line of succession. A king’s daughters are also permitted to rule from now on should the Habsburg Monarchy have no male heir to the throne. After his death, his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa, succeeds him. The houses of Wittelsbach, Saxony, Prussia and France, however fight this reform. After eight years, the Austrian War of Succession ends in 1748 in a victory for Maria Theresa, a great admirer of Johann Baptist Hagenauer’s skill as a sculptor, to which the above mentioned quotation by her imperial majesty testifies.