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Meister von Meßkirch, The Adoration of the Magi, detail from the middle panel of the former high altarpice of St. Martin in Messkirch, around 1535/40, coniferous wood, 165.7 x 92.8 cm, Meßkirch, Parish Church, © Archibishop's Ordinariat Freiburg i., Br., Picture Archive, recording Michael Eckmann.

STUTTGART.- The mystery of the Messkirch Master's identity has been capturing imaginations for more than a century. Yet even that fascination is outstripped by the captivating quality of his works. It comes as no surprise that the Swabian painter is considered one of the most prominent artists of the German Renaissance. 

The Large State Exhibition unites the master’s oeuvre for thefirst time. A reconstruction of the church furnishings of St Martin in Messkirch forms the presentation’s core. The interior of 1535–1540, comprising as many as twelve altars amounted to a stronghold of the Counter-Reformation. 

The golden grandeur of the Master of Messkirch’s paintings belie the circumstances of their origins in the Reformation time. Along with broadsheetsand woodcuts that served as mediums of the struggle against the papal church, works by Cranach illustrate the Lutheran doctrine. 

The so-called Gotha Altarpiece represents a counterpart to the panels by the Messkirch Master. Made up of 160 depictions in all, the monumental winged altarpiece executed for Stuttgart Palace in ca. 1538 is the richest in imagery of any work of Early German painting. 

Featuring nearly two hundred loans the Large State Exhibition is one of the key events commemorating the Reformation on its 500th anniversary. 

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 Meister von Meßkirch, The Adoration of the Magi, middle panel of the former high altarpice of St. Martin in Messkirch, around 1535/40, coniferous wood, 165.7 x 92.8 cm, Meßkirch, Parish Church, © Archibishop's Ordinariat Freiburg i., Br., Picture Archive, recording Michael Eckmann.

The unknown Artist 
»The Master of Messkirch« takes his name from his major work: the altarpieces of the collegiate church of St. Martin in Messkirch. To this day, all attempts to connect this anonymous figure with a documented artist active in this region remain hypothetical. Even the most recent suggestions, based on research from the 1930s, associating him with either Joseph Weiss or his brother Marx the Younger fail to completely convince on stylistic grounds, even though these two artists continued the tradition of the Master of Messkirch’s workshop well into the last quarter of the 16th century in Balingen and the Lake Constance region. 

Very little reliable evidence survives regarding the Master of Messkirch’s apprenticeship and his travelling years as a journeyman. He probably received his early training in a workshop following the traditions of Ulm. Certain idiosyncrasies of his style identify him as a distant follower of Albrecht Dürer, whose imagery and subjects he probably knew primarily from prints. His work also reflects closer similarities with Dürer’s pupils Hans Schäufelein and Hans Baldung Grien. The Master of Messkirch may even have worked for a time in the latter’s workshop in Freiburg. 

The artist was active as a wall and panel painter in the region around Sigmaringen between approximately 1520 and 1540. The high number of works that survive from this period, and the recognizably varied quality of their workmanship attest to his status as the master of a well-organized workshop employing multiple assistants by the 1530s at the latest.

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Meister von Meßkirch, draft for the framework of the former high altars of St. Martin in Messkirch, around 1535, Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, Kupferstichkabinett, © Kunstmuseum Basel – Martin P. Bühler.

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Meister von Meßkirch, Wildensteiner altar, Madonna with the fourteen saints of Zimmerhaus house (open condition), 1536, mixed technique on fir and softwood, 64 x 60 cm (center panel), 68.6 x 28.2 cm (left wing), 68.5 x 28.3 cm (right wing), Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, © Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

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Meister von Meßkirch, Wildensteiner altar, Madonna with the fourteen saints of Zimmerhaus house (middle panel), 1536, mixed technique on softwood, 64 x 60 cm, Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, © Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

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Meister von Meßkirch, Wildensteiner altar (Madonna with the fourteen saints of Zimmerhaus house),  St. Martin, detail fom the middle panel, 1536, mixed technique on coniferous wood, 64 x 60 cm, Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, © Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

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Meister von Meßkirch, Wildensteiner Altar: Farewell Christi of his Mother, Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Capture of Christ (from left to the right, when closed); 1536, mixed technique on softwood, 68x 28 cm, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart © Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

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Meister von Meßkirch, Wildensteiner Altar: Kneeling donor Count Gottfried Werner von Zimmern, inside, 1536, firwood, 68x 28 cm, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart © Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

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Meister von Meßkirch, Wildensteiner Altar: Kneeling Foundress Countess Apollonia von Zimmern, b. from Henneberg (inside), 1536, mixed technique on firwood, 68x 23 cm, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart © Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

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Meister von Meßkirch, Mocking of Christ, around 1535/40, Warsaw, National Museum, © Warsaw, National Museum.

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Meister von Meßkirch, The Crucifixion of Christ, c. 1530, fir wood, glued on parqueted wood panel, 98 x 73 cm, Schwäbisch Hall, Würth Collection, St. John's Church, © Würth Collection, Inv. 6563, photo: Horst Ziegenfusz.

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Lucas Cranach the Elder or d.J., The good captain under the Cross of Christ, 1539, beechwood (?) Transferred to oakwood, 51.5 x 34 cm, Aschaffenburg, Staatsgemäldesammlung – Staatsgalerie im Schloss Johannisburg Aschaffenburg, © Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlung, Photo: Sibylle Forster

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Meister von Meßkirch, Saint Benedict as a recluse in prayer, c. 1540, mixed media, fir wood, 106 x 75 cm, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

 

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Heinrich Füllmaurer and circle, Gothaer Tafelaltarmiddle panel, 1539/41, Gotha, Ducal Museum, © Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha, photographer: Lutz Ebhardt 

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Heinrich Füllmaurer and circle, Jesus teaches and heals the sick in Galilea, detail from the middle panel of the Gotha panel altarc. 1538, mixed technique on fir wood, paper mache, Gotha, Ducal Museum, © Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha, photographer: Lutz Ebhardt 

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Heinrich Füllmaurer and circle, The Devil as a Tempter, detail from Platz 18 of the Gotha panel altar, c. 1538, mixed technique on fir wood, paper mache, Gotha, Ducal Museum, © Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein Gotha, photographer: Lutz Ebhardt 

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Hans Baldung Grien, St. Anna with the Christ Child, the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Baptist, c. 1511, oil on masonite plate, transferred from wood, 87 × 75 cm (transferred original painting surface), 89 × 77.6 cm (masonite plate), Washington, National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1961.9.62, © Washington, National Gallery of Art

 

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Albrecht Dürer, Mary with the Starry Crown, c. 1508, copperplate engraving, 11.4 × 7.5 cm (sheet), trimmed to the edge of the plate, Munich, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung Munich, © Staatliche Graphische Collection Munich

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Ludwig Krug (Workshop), Balusterpokak with Landknechtsfigur, c. 1520/30, Stuttgart, Landesmuseum Württemberg, Photo: Landesmuseum Württemberg, Hendrik Zwietasch