Medieval Sculptures
The Virgin of Mercy
Follower of Michel Erhart
Ca. 1450/1500
114 cm
Emil Bührle's interest in art went back to his days as a student at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. One series of lectures that remained in his memory was that given by Professor Wilhelm Vöge, who specialised in Gothic sculpture on French and German cathedrals. The last seminar that Bührle attended before being called up for military service in August 1914 drew comparisons between the cathedrals of Strasbourg and Freiburg.
So it isn't entirely surprising that, notwithstanding his love of modern French painting, Bührle the collector maintained a lasting interest in mediaeval sculpture. At the core of this part of his collection are works from the Gothic period from the region around Lake Constance, as well as Bavaria and the Tyrol. The figure in the Bührle collection known as the "Virgin of Mercy" is attributed to the circle of Master Michel Erhart, who was active in the south German city of Ulm. It has been dated to the Late Gothic period, between 1450 and 1500, when figures of saints were produced in unprecedented numbers.
According to Roman Catholic doctrine, saints could intervene on behalf of those who prayed to them. This role is vividly expressed here in the "Virgin of Mercy". The faithful, men and women in separated groups as in a church, are shown gathered under the cloak of the Virgin Mary, raising their hands in prayer. Their own robes identify them as belonging to the higher ranks of society and the clergy. The Virgin's cloak is held by two angels, which expresses its symbolic meaning as the starry firmament. Under it the faithful know they are safe – in confidence that Mary will obtain for them the blessing of her son, which is evident in the gesture made by the right hand of the baby Jesus.