In this sculpture, the Virgin stands on the crescent moon and holds the Christ child on her left hip. Although the beautifully rendered child gestures and gazes at her with a sweet expression, the Virgin confronts the viewer with a contemplative air. Her tenderness toward the child is expressed, however, by her superbly carved left hand tenderly caressing the child’s leg, which is revealed as his shirt is swept back in a breeze. The child’s slightly parted lips reveal two small teeth. The original Gothic crown on the Virgin’s head is now carved away, probably in order to replace it with a later jeweled gold crown, now lost. The Virgin’s right arm and the child’s right arm are replacements.
The remarkable execution of this sculpture, which is worked on both the front and back sides, suggests that Riemenschneider carved it himself. Moreover, the poor quality of the knotty limewood—which is actually four pieces of wood assembled with dowels and nails—also suggests that it was made as a workshop model and, indeed, it appears to have been used for the contemporary Virgin of the Rosary, a life-sized workshop piece, commissioned in 1521 and made to be hung from the choir vaulting in the pilgrimage church at Kirchberg, near Volkach.
It is not known where or with whom Riemenschneider trained, but in 1483 he took his journeyman’s oath in Würzburg, where he spent most of his life as a sculptor. After 1500, he ran the largest sculpture workshop in Würzburg, producing an enormous number of religious images for churches. Riemenschneider is especially known for the introduction of unpolychromed wood sculpture for major altarpiece commissions.
Bier, Justus. Tilmann Riemenschneider Ein Gedenkbuch, 4th ed. Vienna: 1937, 30; 5th ed. Vienna: 1938, 30; 6th ed. Vienna: 1948, 36.
Bier, Justus. "Art: Dumbarton Oaks is No Ordinary Museum." The Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY (November 26, 1944), Section 3, 3.
Gerstenberg, L. Tilmann Riemenschneider. Vienna:, 1941, 52; 3rd ed. Munich, 1950, 192; 4th ed. Munich, 1955, 201, 230 and n. 491.
Bier, Justus. "A Virgin with the Christ Child by Tilmann Riemenschneider." Register of the Museum of Art of the University of Kansas nos. 2 and 3 (June and September 1952), .
Muth, H. "Tilmann Riemenschneiders Madonna im Rosenkranz in der Wallfahrtskirche 'Maria auf dem Kirchberg' bei Volkach." Mainfränkisches Jahrbuch für Geschichte und Kunst 6 (1954), 164.
Bier, Justus. Review of Flesche, H. Tilmann Riemenschneider. Dresden, 1957. In College Art Journal 18, no. 2 (1959), 190.
Kuhn, Charles L. "Riemenschneider in the Harvard Collection." Art Bulletin 56, no. 2 (1974), 244-247, figs. 1-4.
Bier, Justus. "Riemenschneiders Marienstatuen und die Clemens-Madonna im KöIner Kunstgewerbemuseum." Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 37 (1975), 60.
Bier, Justus. Tilmann Riemenschneider: Die späten Werke in Holz. Vienna: 1978, 95ff.
Bier, Justus. Tilmann Riemenschneider: His Life and Work. Louisville, KY: 1982, 78-79, pls. 16a-c, ill. front and back cover.
Kalden, Iris. Tilman Riemenschneider, Werkstattleiter in Würzburg. Ammersbek bei Hamburg, 1990, 93-94, 141-142.
Vikan, Gary. Catalogue of the Sculpture in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection from the Ptolemaic Period to the Renaissance. Washington, DC, 1995, 133-135, no. 48, pls. 48A-E.
Simon, Holger. Der Creglinger Marienaltar von Tilman Riemenschneider (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Cologne, 1998). Berlin: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Forschung, 1998, 177.
Chapuis, Julien, with contributions by Michael Baxandall et al. Tilman Riemenschneider, Master Sculptor of the Middle Ages. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999, 39, 44, 86-87, 90-91, 112, 152, 178, 183, 225, 229, 232, 241, 263, 271, 274, 315, 325, 331, 334, 335-338, ill.
Marincola, Michele. "A Technical Investigation of the Dumbarton Oaks Virgin and Child by Tilman Riemenschneider." The Sculpture Journal 4 (2000), 24-34 and pl. III.
Simon, Holger. "Eine Hl. Barbara con Tilman Riemenschneider im Schnütgen-Museum." Kölner Museums-Bulletin, Berichte und Forschungen aus den Museen der Stadt Köln 1 (2000), 5, fig. 5.
Kalden-Rosenfeld, Iris. Tilman Riemenschneider und seine Wekstatt. Mit einem Katalog der allgemein als Arbeiten Riemenschneiders und seiner Werkstatt akzeptierten Werke. Königstein im Taunus: 2001, 149, no. 80, pl. 155 and fig. 253.
Chapuis, Julien. In Tilman Riemenschneider - Werke seiner Blützeit. Regensburg: Verlag Schnell und Steiner GmbH, 2004, 343f, figs. 291 and 298.
Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 330f, ill.
"Masterworks of Five Centuries," Golden Gate International Exhibition, San Francisco, CA, 1939, no.13.
"Tilman Riemenschneider, Master Sculptor of the Late Middle Ages," National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 10/3/1999-1/9/2000, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 2/7-5/14/2000, no. 45.
"Tilman Riemenschneider - Werke seiner Blütezeit," Mainfränkisches Museum, Würzburg, 3/24-6/13/2004, no. 72.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 5/15/2004-5/18/2008.
Reportedly acquired in Vienna around 1910 by Wilhelm Böhler, Munich (dealer) (according to Bier, 1982, 80), possibly from Rosenberg & Stiebel (dealer).
Siegfried Lämmle, Munich, before 1935.
Offered in the trade by Julius Böhler, H. Heilbronner, and Siegfried Lämmle, Munich, 1935.
Richard H. Zinser, Stuttgart and Forest Hills, NY, 1935.
Jacob Hirsch, New York, NY (dealer), by early 1937.
Purchased from Jacob Hirsch, New York, NY (dealer), by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 2/13/1937.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 2/13/1937-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.