Report on the Wiesensteig Excursion 16. 04. 2018
Participants: Rest. R. Karbacher, Dipl. Rest. (FH) A. Müller, Dipl. Rest. (Univ) J. Schekulin, all BLfD Munich, J. Strobl, MA, University of Vienna
While working for the international project “Tracing the Art of the Straub Family” members of the small expert group on Johann Baptist Straub from Munich and Vienna had the idea to visit Wiesensteig in Baden-Württemberg, the hometown of the family of Johann Georg Straub and his five sons. Julia Strobl prepares her doctoral thesis on the Straub Family and their artistic network: „Die Bildhauerfamilie Straub – Ein europäisches Künstlernetzwerk des 18. Jahrhunderts“. The colleagues from the Bavarian State Department of Monuments and Sites (BLfD) working on the TrArS-Project offered Ms Strobl their expertise concerning technological issues. Furthermore, none of the participant had been in Wiesensteig before. Ms. Strobl arranged the journey and organized the opening of the churches. Mr. Müller informed the colleagues from the Department of Monuments and Sites in Esslingen, Baden-Württemberg about the planned trip.
First stop was the parish church St. Margareth in Hohenstadt. Regarding to elder sources the pulpit had been transferred from Maria Dotzburg near Mühlhausen, a former pilgrimage church demolished in 1811. Work on the lost high altar (1702) and the pulpit (1714/15) of Maria Dotzburg is documented for Johann Georg Straub (father) and his brother Johannes Straub.
The cabinetwork of the pulpit shows high quality craftsmanship. The carved relief, which is situated on the front side, depicts the Latin church father Gregory the Great. The form of the rocaille cartouche smoothly follows the bulge of the pulpit. On the left, the figure of a winged putto raises the papal tiara above the relief. Another attribute of the saint, the papal cross-staff with three beams, protrudes beyond the right side of the cartouche.
The high artistic quality of the carving surprised all participants. Even more astonishing seemed the dating of the artwork to the first decades of the 18th century. There was general agreement in estimating the execution as done by a sculptor with academic training rather than by a simple cabinetmaker and gilder, who did some figural carvings as well.
Next we visited the pilgrimage church Ave Maria in Deggingen, were Johann Georg Straub (father) is documented for gilding the glory of the high altar in 1728. The Degginger plasterer Johann Ulrich Schweizer whose descendants are still working in this trade accomplished the rich decoration of the church with figural stucco including the figures of the high altar. During a restoration in 1976, an astonishing inscription on the wall behind the altar was uncovered: „Philiph Jacob: Straub in. Wisenstaug 1723“ (Ziegler 1984). Philipp Jakob may have worked in Ave Maria as a member of his father’s workshop before he left his hometown Wiesensteig for Munich, Vienna and finally Graz.
The most important destination of the excursion was the parish church St. Cyriacus in Wiesensteig. Johann Baptist Straub designed the side altars of the nave 1775, mainly executed by his assistant Joseph Streiter until 1780. Only the crucifix from the former Altar of the Holy Cross (1775) and the sculptural group of St. John of Nepomuk (1739), the latter is situated on the predella of the Altar of Saint Joseph, are by his own hands. Peter Volk’s monography from 1984 refers to an inscription with graphite pencil on the inner side of the pedestal: “Johannes straub Hat dises/bild gemacht anno 1739./den 4 Januarij“ [Johannes straub made this / image in the year 1739 / on the 4th of January]
The sculptor explicitly elaborated front and backside of the figure. The now visible front is gilded, the backside painted yellow. On the backside the circumferential profiles of the pedestal have been chipped off. Another prominent detail are the round elaborations in the mouths of the two dolphins, which are situated on the corners of the pedestal. In context with the installation of the sculpture in the church interior, this seems hardly reasonable. The above-mentioned observations of the experts from BLfD Judith Schekulin, Rupert Karbacher und Andreas Müller lead to the assumption that the sculpture may originally have been a bozzetto (a study) for St. John of Nepomuk monument or fountain, which had been adapted for its new position in 1775. A gap on the right side of the figural group under St. John of Nepomuk is an evidence for a modification; probably it indicates the former position of a now missing second angel. Ms. Strobl showed a picture of a comparable group (Belvedere Museum, Vienna, inv. 8285) were two angels lift up the saint.
For the opposite altar J. Streiter had created a matching sculpture of S Aloysius Gonzaga in 1775. Two angels left and right of a cloud support St. Aloysius who is kneeling on top of the cloud in a devotional gesture. Currently a sculpture of the patron St. Cyriacus is standing at its former place. The reason why the sculpture of J. Streiter was removed is not known. On the predella of the first side altar on the left side of the nave is a high quality sculpture of the Pensive Christ (“Christus in der Rast”). It seems peculiar that Volk does not mention it in his book.
Afterwards the sexton Ms Straub accompanied us to the cemetery chapel St. Leonard. As well documented, Johann Georg (father) and his brother Johannes Straub worked there 1737/38. The cabinetmaker Johannes built the architecture of the wooden high altar, Johann Georg did the sculptural work and the crucifix. The quality of the encountered sculptures in the chapel is obviously inferior to the carvings we saw at the pulpit in Hohenstadt. The traditional attribution of the Hohenstadt pulpit to the elder Straub generation definitely is to be put in question - as all participants of the Wiesensteig excursion agree.
Text: Rupert Karbacher and Julia Strobl
- Peter Volk, Johann Baptist Straub (1704-1784), Hirmer Verlag, Munich 1984
- Walter Ziegler, Die Reichsgrafschaft Wiesensteig als Kunstlandschaft, in: Hofbildhauer Johann Baptist Straub 1704–1784. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt 1736–1783. Bildhauer aus Wiesensteig (Veröffentlichung des Kreisarchivs Göppingen, 10), Anton Konrad Verlag, Weißenkorn, 1984, p. 7–23, cit. p. 13–14.
Photos by: J. Strobl, 2018