From February 2020, the IN-SIGHT series at the Upper Belvedere is placing a focus on one of the most significant late-medieval painters in Austria: the Master of Mondsee. For the first time, this exhibition will bring together the entire ensemble from his Mondsee Altarpiece and place this masterpiece in an art- and cultural historical context.
Enchanting depictions of the Virgin Mary, opulent, crowded scenes from the childhood of Christ, astute Church Fathers in their studies, and, last but not least, the famous lake landscapes from the Flight into Egypt define the varied oeuvre of the Master of Mondsee. The exhibition centers around the work that gave this great anonymous artist his name: the paintings from a Gothic winged altarpiece, probably once located in the abbey church of Mondsee. Eight paintings have survived from this lost altarpiece and today these are distributed between three locations. Five panel paintings—the largest and most well-known of the works—are in the Belvedere’s collection. Two panels were recently acquired from a private collection by the Oberösterreichische Landesmuseen, and one work is in the Liechtenstein Princely Collections, Vaduz–Vienna. The ensemble was probably separated after the dissolution of Mondsee’s Benedictine abbey in 1791, but it is now considered certain that the pictures belong together. This will be the first time they are reunited and presented together.
One aspect of the exhibition is the commissioning of the altarpiece by Abbot Benedikt Eck of Vilsbiburg, depicted as the donor on one of the paintings together with the Mondsee coat of arms. It was under Benedikt that Mondsee’s abbey church was rebuilt in Gothic style. Prior to this, the abbot had commissioned Michael Pacher to create the high altarpiece at the pilgrimage church of St. Wolfgang, an important influence for the Master of Mondsee. As comparisons with other works reveal, the Master of Mondsee engaged with Pacher’s work and other artistic sources in the Salzburg and Bavarian region while always retaining an individual approach. It is this that makes his work so unmistakable.
New insights into the Master of Mondsee’s superb skills as a draftsman have been brought to light by the Belvedere’s Conservation Workshops using imaging techniques (infrared reflectography), which exposed the detailed underdrawing. The IN-SIGHT series at the Upper Belvedere aims to research, analyze, and introduce artists and works from the collection.