AMBER FOR THRONE AND ALTAR
The Gold of the Sea in Princely Collections and Treasuries
From October 5, 2005 till January 29, 2006 the Kunsthistorisches Museum hosts an exhibition entitled “Amber for Throne and Altar. The Gold of the Sea in Princely Collections and Treasuries”, which focuses on objects in the holdings of the Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts and the Ecclesiastical Treasury.
Besides amber works dating from classical antiquity the show includes statuettes, vessels, bowls, small boxes and magnificent cutlery executed in the amber workshops of Königsberg and Gdansk between the early fifteenth and the first half of the eighteenth century. In addition there will be numerous loans from German museums and private collections.
This large exhibition marks the first time that many of these masterpieces – among them amber works by such celebrated artists as Georg Schreiber, Jacob Heise, Nicolaus Turau, Gottfried Wolffram or Christoph Maucher – are on show to the public.
The most important object in the small collection of amber works in the Ecclesiastical Treasury in Vienna is the large amber altar that measures almost 2 metres in height. It dates from around 1645 and came to Vienna as a diplomatic gift. It was presented to the Emperor Leopold I by the Elector Frederick III in connection with the latter’s coronation as King of Prussia in 1701.
Small private altars, Crucifixion groups, ewers used during High Mass, and rosaries complement the subject of private devotion in connection with the Pietas Austriaca, the exemplary piety of the House of Habsburg.
The larger number of secular works included in the show, such as small cabinets, boxes, goblets, candlesticks, statuettes etc. – mainly executed in Königsberg and Gdansk – document both the different techniques of working amber and the popularity this precious and extremely fragile material enjoyed at the princely courts of Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The amber throne signed by Nikolaus Turau and dated 1677 was sent to the Emperor Leopold I by the Great Elector in 1678. While the large amber throne represents secular state art, the amber altar is its counterpart representing ecclesiastical state art.
The scholarly catalogue by Sabine Haag and Georg Laue includes detailed descriptions and photographs of every exhibit. It also includes a survey of the history of the amber holdings in the Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts and in the Ecclesiastical Treasury in Vienna.
Another essay included in the catalogue focuses on the life of Georg Schreiber, the celebrated master from Königsberg, whose oeuvre is discussed and enlarged by the attribution of newly-discovered signed amber works.