Christ Child, Martin Zürn, Germany, probably Lake Constance (Bodensee),c. 1630

Martin Zürn
Christ Child

Limewood, with original polychrome
Germany, probably Lake Constance (Bodensee),
c. 1630


30 cm; 1 ft.


Private collection, Southern Germany

Related literature

R. Guby, Die Bildhauer Martin und Michael Zürn: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der deutschen Plastik des siebzehnten Jahrhunderts, Band 2, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Ostbairische Heimatforschung (Kommissionsverlag Erwin Skacel, Passau, 1927)
H. Möhle, ‘Die Bildhauerfamilie Zürn. II. Martin und Michael Zürn. Michael Zürn d. J.’, Band 53 (Jahrbuch der Preußischen Kunstsammlungen, 1932), pp. 19–37
C. Zoege von Manteuffel, Die Bildhauerfamilie Zürn. 1606–1666, Bands 1 and 2 (Anton H. Konrad Verlag, Weißenhorn, 1969)
Die Bildhauerfamilie Zürn 1585 – 1724: Schwaben / Bayern / Mähren / Österreich, exhibition catalogue (Landes Oberösterreich, Braunau am Inn, 27 April – 28 October 1979)
Die Renaissance im deutschen Südwesten zwischen Reformation and Dreißigjährigem Krieg, exhibition catalogue, Band 2 (Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe, Heidelberg, 21 June – 19 October 1986), pp. 567–569
Die Waldseer Bildhauer Zurn, exhibition catalogue (Kornhausmuseum, Bad Waldsee, 18 April – 1 June 1998)
C. Zoege von Manteuffel, ‘Die Zürn in Überlingen 1606–1636‘ in M. Brunner and M. Harder-Merkelbach, 1100 Jahre: Kunst und Architektur in Überlingen (850–1950) (Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg, 2005), pp. 185-200

This small exquisitely carved Christ Child sits upright, with flat chest and retracted concave abdomen, his torso tilted forward, his legs crossed, the soles of his feet visible. He holds his left hand at shoulder height, his right hand outstretched to the viewer, elongated fingers spread. His endearing, slightly mischievous, face is characterised by a longish nose, small mouth, slight smile and spherical chin. Thick wavy ‘doughy‘ curls of hair crown his head.

Expertly crafted on all sides, reflective of masterly attention to detail, this exceptional sculpture can be identified with confidence as a significant, hitherto unpublished, work by Martin Zürn. The face of the child in particular exhibits features typical of the upper Swabian masters of the period and is comparable in this respect to the Master’s Christ Child held by Saint Christopher from the altar in the Überlingen cathedral dated 1634. The shape and projection of the nose and the uniformly curved eyebrows are especially noteworthy. The shape and style of the curls of hair are strikingly similar, as they are also to those seen on the Master’s John the Baptist in the Church of Engerazhofen (c. 1625). The Madonna and Child from the altar in the Church of Owingen (c. 1627 – 1630) and the similar group from the pulpit in the Church of Wasserburg (c. 1637 – 1639) are further comparable works. The flat ‘cut down‘ chest and concave-shaped abdomen are common to all three figures of the infant Christ. The long splayed fingers also mark our example as the work of the same Master.

The Zürn family were amongst the most important sculptors working in Southern Germany and Upper Austria in the late 16th and first half of the 17th centuries. They were an extraordinary and prolific family of artists spanning four generations. Hans Zürn the Elder (1555-60 – 1631) was active from 1582 in Wangen and is known for, amongst other works, the high altar completed in 1624 for the Church of Frauenberg in Waldsee. Hans had six sons, all of whom followed in his footsteps. Of these, Jörg (1583 – 1635-38) and Martin (1585-90 – after 1665) were the most successful. Jörg is famed for his five-storey Mannerist high altar for the Überlingen cathedral completed between 1613 and 1616 with, as argued convincingly by Zoege von Manteuffel (op. cit.), the assistance of his brothers Martin and Michael.

Martin Zürn trained with and then often assisted his father as well as working closely with his brother Michael. In addition to the figures of the coronation for the Überlingen cathedral, other known works in the Lake Constance (Bodensee) region include the signed and dated 1615 altar of the Rosary Brotherhood in the Church of Pfullendorf and the altar in the Church of Owingen. Between 1635 and 1637 Martin worked with Michael in the monastery in Seeon and later between 1638 and 1639 on the pulpit for the Church of Wasserburg. In 1643 he settled in Braunau am Inn where for the next two decades he and his brothers Michael, Hans Jakob (active 1617 – 1635) and David (1598 – 1666) completed various commissions for churches in the surrounding area including the masterful crucifix for the church in Eggelsberg and the high altar of Burgkirchen. The third and fourth generations of the Zürn family, the sons and grandsons of David Zürn, continued to be active in Wasserburg am Inn, Passau and Olomouc in Moravia into the early 18th century.

The design of and position held by our Christ Child suggest that he was originally part of a group, probably comprising an approximately life-size Madonna. In all likelihood the group was similar to those of Owingen and Wasserburg with mother and child carved separately and added together. Comparable work points to a date around 1630, created before the Master left the Lake Constance (Bodensee) area to travel east. In excellent condition and retaining its original polychrome, this work is as charming as it is important as a high quality example of the distinctive style and workmanship of one of the most skilled woodcarvers of the German late Renaissance.

We are grateful to Dr. Manuel Teget-Welz, former curatorial fellow, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, Department of Art History, Universities of Augsburg and Erlangen-Nüremberg, for confirming the attribution to Martin Zürn based on first hand examination of the work.

SOLD: Private collection, United States