‘The Birth of Christ’ and ‘The Adoration of the Magi’
Lindenwood with the original gilding and polychromy
Height: 157 cm, width: 69 cm (‘The Birth of Christ’)
Height: 155.4 cm, width: 70.2 cm (‘The Adoration of the Magi’)
Two paintings with ‘The Annunciation’ and ‘The Presentation in the Temple’
Oil on panel
Height: 157.6 cm, width: 70.2 cm (‘The Annunciation’)
Height: 156.3 cm, width: 70.8 cm (‘The Presentation in the Temple’)
Southeastern Germany (Innviertel region, probably Passau)
Late 15th century
Probably commissioned by an Augustinian monk or congregation;
Probably Collection of Albert von Carmesina (1806–1881), Vienna;
Purchased by Eduard Strache (1847–1912), Vienna, between 1866 and 1870;
By way of inheritance Collection of Emil Wittasek (1885–1971), Vienna;
Acquired by the Zentralsparkasse of the City of Vienna in 1975 (merged in 1991 with the Bank of Austria), 1975; until 2018 loaned to the Vienna Museum.
Wien im Mittelalter, exhibition from 18 December 1975–18 April 1976 at the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, Vienna
The four works, virtually equal in size, each illustrate a different episode from the life of the Virgin Mary. They probably originally belonged to a winged altarpiece. On the outer sides of the wings are two painted scenes – the Annunciation and the Presentation in the Temple. On the inside of the wings the Birth of Christ is on the left and the Adoration of the Magi on the right. There were probably other reliefs or sculptures on the altarpiece that have since been lost.
The panel paintings have been cropped along the lower edge. As a result only fragments of the figures of the two donors have been preserved. On the Annunciation panel a monk, shown with a fortified tower in his hand, can be seen on the left; on the Presentation in the Temple panel a nun is depicted at the bottom right, identified as the abbess of a convent by the crosier in her hand.
All four panels have been in a collection in Vienna, at the latest since the middle of the 19th century onwards. The composition of the Annunciation, the Birth of Christ and the Adoration of the Magi is based on copperplate engravings by Martin Schongauer (c. 1440/1445 Colmar–1491 Breisach).
At the beginning of the Enlightenment from the late 18th century onwards, a secularisation and consequently a gradual renunciation of the church came about. This culminated in the confiscation and use of church property without permission by the state from 1803 onwards. The so-called secularisation represented a decisive turning point in religious life in Bavaria. Monasteries were dissolved, church property and magnificent libraries sold off, buildings demolished. This explains why a large number works of religious art are no longer to be found in their original context and why it is difficult or even no longer possible to determine their origin, as in the case of our altar panels.
A new order
The Augustinian Order was founded in Rome in 1244 under Pope Innocent as an amalgamation of several older, loosely organised communities of hermits. The monastic rule was based on that of St. Augustine. Similar to the Franciscans and Dominicans, the Augustinians were guided by the notions of poverty and fraternity that is why they belong to the mendicant orders. There were no differences in status between priests and lay brothers. The Augustinians usually settled in cities where they were mainly concerned with preaching and pastoral care, later also with education and missionary work.
A great Viennese historian
Albert von Carmesina (Vienna, 1806–81), whose collection once included these four panels, was an Austrian artist of prints and a researcher on classical antiquity. He came from a distinguished Viennese family originally from Italy. Carmesina is best known for his publications on the art history and history of Vienna. For this, Carmesina searched through archives and made valuable contributions on the topography of Vienna. Carmesina is considered the historical topographer and medieval archaeologist of Vienna in the 19th century. Thanks to his art-historical work Carmesina was also known beyond the boundaries of Vienna, as evidenced by his acquaintance with Prince Metternich, at whose invitation he travelled throughout Germany and Belgium in 1845.