Madonna and Child, Southern Germany, Ulm, c. 1470 – 1480

Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child

Limewood, with original polychrome and gilding
Southern Germany, Ulm, c. 1470 – 1480


81.5 cm; 2 ft. 8 in.
24 cm; 9⅖ in.
17.5 cm; 7 in.


Private collection, Germany

Related literature

G. Otto, Die Ulmer Plastik der Spätgotik (Gryphius Verlag, Reutlingen, 1927)
H. Rott, ‘Quellen und Forschungen zur südwestdeutschen und schweizerischen Kunstgeschichte im 15 und 16 Jahrhundert’ in Alt-Schwaben und die Reichsstädte, Band 2 (Strecker und Schröder Verlag, Stuttgart, 1936)
G. Jasbar und E. Treu, Bildhauerei und Malerei vom 13 Jahrhundert bis 1600: Katalog 1 (Ulmer Museum, Ulm, 1981)

In this serene representation the Madonna gazes downwards at her infant son, his left leg supported by her right hand, her left palm resting on the side of his ribs. She is a young, beautiful mother, her wavy shoulder length light brown hair surrounded by a white veil and topped with a golden crown. Reflecting the fusion of Upper Rhineland and Swabian stylistic features, Mary has an oval face, domed high forehead, narrow straight nose, high rosy cheeks and a strong spherical chin which, in this example, is dimpled. Thin arched eyebrows frame her heavily lidded eyes, her mouth petite with thin red lips.

The naked Christ child, with tightly curled hair, elongated ears, spherical ‘pot’ belly, 'greasy' chubby legs and rosy cheeks and lips, appears cheerful, almost mischievous. His right hand is outstretched in a blessing movement as if he seeks to touch the viewer conveying the intimacy of the scene. In his left hand he holds a bunch of grapes, symbolic of his blood and forthcoming sacrifice for mankind. The influence of the great Ulmer master Michel Erhart (1440–1522) is evident: the vivid pot-bellied infant is reminiscent of the figure in Erhart’s Seated Madonna and Child created around 1470 formerly in the Georg Schuster Collection in Munich and now lost. 

Retaining much of its original polychrome and gilding, the quality and state of preservation of the flowing drapery is exceptional, the craquelure exquisite. The Virgin is clothed in a red undergarment and a magnificent full length heavy gold coat with blue lining and a red-blue decorative border with floral motif, the fabric billowing to fall in sharp deep folds to the floor, the material gathered underneath the Christ child to reveal also the full length folds of the red underclothes. 

Created between 1470 and 1480 in Ulm, one of the most important centres for Southern German sculpture at the time, this beautifully proportioned group was carved with hollowed back and almost certainly stood originally as an altarpiece, probably commissioned for a private chapel. Its high artistic and technical merit combined with its excellent original condition and sublime craquelured drapery makes this object of devotion a museum quality example of Ulmer masterly carving of the late 15th century.