St Maurices

A visit to Magdeburg to see the black St Maurice in its Cathedral has been on my Bucket List for some time. I have read much about the figure, I've spoken at the V&A on St Maurice and written his entry for the web site. And now had the chance en route to friends in Postdam in my Bongo camper van as I could stop over at Magdeberg to see the figure.

I really felt I was well prepared to view the original statue in Magdeburg Cathedral of Saints Catherine and Maurice. Nevertheless I wasn’t prepared for the quality of the original and the number of portyrals of St Maurice to be found there!

Magdeberg's Twin Towers each approx 100m
Magdeberg's North Aisle
The Cathedral from the outside, is a huge, monumental building  dominating its surroundings,  time has darkened and weathered its exterior, while its interior is wonderfully, light, airy and beautifully proportioned.

The Cathedral has different 29 representations of St Maurice spread over 700 years. Each one was different all they have in common were St Maurice’s key attributes: dressed as a Roman solider with a shield, a sword and lance and most had negroid features. The artists and artisans who created these  images used a variety of media including stone, wood, painting, tapestry.

His image is to be found all over the the Cathedral. Sadly I didn’t get to see all twenty-nine as many were not accessible to the general public however the ones I did see did not disappoint.

1250 St Maurice

1250 St Mauirce
The 1250 St Maurice the statue that created the black St Maurice, commissioned by the Emperor in 1250, which came to be depicted in so many subsequent Maurcian images. I had come to Magdeburg specifically to see this statue and it lived up to my expectations and more in  and in fact included a few surprises.
Detail head of 1250 St Maurice
First surprise, the statue was at the very centre of the Church, at the right of the high alter and across the aisle was St Catherine. Both statues were on plinths, with Catherine’s a little lower than St Maurice. These were clearly not the original positions of both statues as they are mounted on very simple stone pedestal columns with no surrounding embellishments, which would normally been seen in order to emphasis the importance of the two saints to the Cathedral to the congregation.

1250 St Maurice flat upper left arm
A clue to to how he might have been positioned can be seen in the flat surface of his left upper arm, indicating that the statue might have been at one time been hard against another flat surface. The statue would have to be turned thru ninety degrees, thus he could have well have been facing into the nave of the church looking directly at the congregation. Such a position would make sense has he along with St Catherine could have been either side of the entrance to the sanctuary looking into the Nave, whereas now he simply stares across the aisle directly looking at St Catherine opposite him.

St Maurice as viewed from St Catherine across the asile.
The second surprises was the amount of polychromy to be found on the statue, which in its day must have looked magnificent with that sober, sympathetic black face with its red lips and sad eyes , the body shining in silver armour contrasting with the greens and golds found in his under garment complete with lance with its ornately painted banner, sword and shield.

Detail showing residual colour of 1250 St Maurice
Detail showing residual colour on 1250 St Maurice
St Catherine has even more residual colour - reds, golds and greens - to be found in her flowing robes but no trace of her saintly attribute the wagon wheel upon which she strapped and driven to her death.

St Catherine ( opposite St Maurice)
That polychromy was hinted at in both statues is made manifest in the North entrance’s ceiling and its painted columns.

Detail showing residual colours on St Catherine's gown
The West Vestibule ceiling showing original colour scheme  
Detail of painted column in West Vestibule
West Entrance

His presence is seen twice in the magnificent West Entrance. Once in the sandstone statue - dated 1587 - high up at the apex of the ogee arched entrance. His diminutive figure is dwarfed by the doors and the Cathedral’s huge twin Gothic towers, he looks perhaps a little comic, such a small figure at the centre of such a huge facade.

The Great West Door
St Maurice on the apex of The Great West Door
On entering the vestibule there is another St Maurice which dates from 1467, this one is flanked by two praying angels with candles , not small and comical like the one on the exterior of the West Entrance this St Maurice is large, imposing if not a little intimidating and unlike many of the other St Maurices his lance and shield are both intact or perhaps his has been restored at some time - either way the resultant figure is magnificent.

St Maurice in the West Vestibule
North Door

The visitor’s entrance is via the North Door which is flanked by Saints Maurice and Catherine. This Maurice is more human and more in scale with its surroundings in contrast to the diminutive St Maurice at the West Door. Both the North Door's statues are nineteenth century copies of the much weathered original sixteenth century originals which are placed at the west end of the Cathedral's North Aisle.

The North Door - Visitor's Entrance
Original 16th Century St Maurice and St Catherine in the North Aisle
I found that the sixteen century originals had ,for me, a much greater aesthetic effect when compared to their later copies, not simply because of the quality of their workmanship, it was the sadness seen in the weathered decay and their many broken parts which gave these original, earlier works a haunting appearance highlighted by the contrasting lighting effects of the late afternoon sun thru the Cathedral’s high windows. And their position at the end of the North aside framing a wooden door was the final touch in creating that enhanced aesthetic effect.

 St Maurice 19th Century Copy
St Maurice 16th Century Original
Detail head of 16th Century St Maurice
The Pulpit

The ornately decorated pulpit has a very portly, jolly, pop-bellied St Maurice dating from 1595 to 1597

Magdeberg's Pulpit
1595-1597 St Maurice in Alabastar 
St Maurice found on Tombs

I saw three tombs of Domherren or Canons which had a St Maurice as part of their statute scheme all three by the same sculpture - Hans Klintzsch who I failed to find anything about -sadly.

1592 St Maurice in SandstoneTomb of Canon Johann von Bothmar by Hans Klintzsch
Detail of 1592 St Maurice
Detail of 1592 St Maurice
Detail of 1598 St Maurice
Tomb of Canon Levin von der Schlenburg by Hans Klintzsch
Detail of 1598 St Maurice 
Detail of 1598 St Maurice
Tomb of Canon Levin von der Schlenburg by Hans Klintzsch

As I said didn’t see all 29 St Maurices in the cathedral, many of the other 29 I couldn’t see but the others I did see included:

1235 St Maurice with other saints
1235 St Maurice
2nd Quarter of 13th Century St Maurice as Knight's head
Window in South Aisle
2nd Quarter of 13th Century St Maurice as Knight's head 
One I Missed and Love To See....

This is part a 1949 Tapestry by Margot Seidler-Mannewitz regrettably I didn't see it. I need to understand the background to such a work - why she did it , what were her intentions and what it means today - that's for another time.

One Disappointment....

The one disappointment was to spot an Adoration Panel scene carved into a panel at the end choristers' seating right next to St Catherine. This Adorations Panel's third and youngest Magus was not black as I would have expected.

The Black Magus figure was developed in Germany during the 13th and and 14th centuries  a subject I have written and spoken about extensively and not to find one in the Cathedral was disappointing ( a typical example of a German Black Magus is seen in  The Adoration of the Magi Panel by Augustin Henckel, 1500-20 shown below, from the V&A collection).  Having said that I didn’t look everywhere, I’m sure there is a Black Magus there…somewhere!

The Adoration of the Magi Panel 
The Adoration of the Magi Panel by Augustin Henckel, 1500-20 from V&A Collection

Examples from painting of German 15th & 16th Century St Maurices
The visit was a revelation, to see so many different versions of St Maurice in one place at one time was exceptional, the painted variations were well known to me but to see so many variations in stone and other media was outstanding. However the best of all was to meet and take a selfie with the original St Maurice!

....and special thanks to Giselher Quast for his excellent Guide Mauritius Im Magdeberger Dom

1 comment:

vcragain said...

Totally fascinating stuff - thanks so much !