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The Romanesque Reliefs of the portal of Gurk Cathedral

In collaboration with the Bundesdenkmalamt, the Kunsthistorisches Museum is showcasing a seminal example of Romanesque carving in the Kunstkammer.

The delicate polychromed wooden reliefs from the portals of Gurk cathedral date from the early 13th century and are among the most important extant carvings from the Romanesque period in Austria. Following a comprehensive restoration intervention, they will go on show for a few months at the Kunsthistorisches Museum before being reinstalled at their original location in Carinthia. In the exhibition visitors can see the originals for the first time – literally – at eye level; it also documents the Bundesdenkmalamt’s comprehensive research and conservation project.

Very few examples of wooden doors with figurative décor have survived from the High Middle Ages. The material is extremely fragile and much endangered by fire, mechanical damage or when exposed to the elements. Only parts of the original décor of the four-metres-high doors at Gurk have survived. But even in their fragmentary condition the reliefs document the impressive original composition, a wealth of detail in both figures and ornaments, the wonderful polychromy, and the complex programme – bearing witness to the magnificent visual and spiritual world inhabited by mediaeval man.

Fifty years ago the reliefs were last removed from the doors, restored and showcased in an exhibition. In connection with the present conservation intervention the Bundesdenkmalamt initiated a research project that combines scientific and conservation aspects with art historical analysis to deepen our knowledge of the original doors, of the materials used and their construction, of formal questions and their meaning. These findings form the focal points of the exhibition. Modern documentation methods such as 3-D scans, touchscreens and a film offer insights into the genesis of the artworks, the materials used, and the condition of both reliefs and doors.

The curators of the exhibition are Bernd Euler-Rolle, head of the department of conservation and restoration at the Bundesdenkmalamt, Julia Amann, a specialist for polychrome wood carvings at the same institution, and Franz Kirchweger, curator of the Kunstkammer and the Imperial Treasury of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.


30 September 2014
to 12 April 2015

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