Tilman Riemenschneider (1460–1531) is not only one of the greatest artists of his age but, as the mayor of Würzburg, held an important political office. He even risked his position and jeopardised his own wealth fighting for freedom during the German Peasants’ Revolt in 1524–1526. To this day, the works of the Franconian sculptor continue to fascinate us thanks to their exquisite artistic perfection and the naturalistic, powerfully expressive style that suggests an intense closeness between the viewer and the sculptured figure.
TRADE WITH RELICS
‘Arma Christi’, the ‘Weapons of Christ’, is the name given to the instruments of the Passion associated with the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. According to tradition, Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, went to the Holy Land in search of the instruments of torture with which Christ was tormented before his death. The most important was the cross, as well as the lance, the sponge, the nails from the cross, the Crown of Thorns, the column used in the Flagellation and the birches. All of these were later considered holy and were attributed with wondrous qualities. Following the end of the Crusades in the late 13<sup>th</sup> century, a mass of relics appeared, reputedly from Jerusalem, which were eagerly traded as a type of holy souvenir.
Emanating from the Netherlands, an increasing degree of realism emerged in art in the 15<sup>th</sup> century, thanks especially to the influence of Niclas Gerhaert van Leyden. This also defined the style of Tilman Riemenschneider’s work – realistic depictions with details of pronounced accuracy with which the viewer could easily identify. Our crucifix, the size of which tells us that it was certainly made for private devotional use, heightens the feeling of <em>compassio</em>. In this way, helped by looking at the image, a pious person in prayer would be able to sense the redemption of Christ on an emotionally more intense level.