Object #15

Angel Candel Holders

Biography Author(s): Lane Baker

How was it made?

<- How was it made?

Lindenwood was a popular and prestigious choice for sculpture material, very well suited to sculpting. A sculptor would begin with a large lindenwood block and carve it into a curved shape, with the center and back cut out. The sculptor had to be careful not to let the wood warp too much while carving. After the C-shaped form was made, the sculptor would chisel down the wood and carve out the finer features. Lindenwood is very good for fine detail work. As a finishing touch, the carving would be painted, or sometimes simply varnished and glossed without any paint at all.

Who made it?

<- Who made it?

We don’t know the sculptor for these particular pieces, but this is probably because of its unusual history (see below). In the 1400s, many wood sculptors attached their names to their work, and became famous for their creations. The most famous of them was Tilman Riemenschneider, who was beginning his career around the time these sculptures were made.

When was it made?

<- When was it made?

Someone made these sculptures around 1490. This was an interesting time for the lindenwood carving industry: all the great masters were very old at this point, and a new wave of youngers sculptors were struggling to establish reputations for themselves. These young artists were experimenting with new techniques: for instance, the 1490s saw some of the first sculptors to not paint their works. More broadly, whoever made these sculptures worked at the tail end of the Gothic period, just before the Renaissance. These candleholders mark one of the last examples of truly “medieval” sculpture.

How was it used?

<- How was it used?

These statues appear to have originally been part of a larger sculpture – most likely an ornate altarpiece. Someone removed them from their original context and carved crude notches for candles into their columns, repurposing them for practical, personal use. It’s possible that the altarpiece simply broke down over time, and that its original owners took it apart and salvaged pieces of it. But, based on the setting and time period of these statues, there may have been a more violent reason: the Protestant Reformation was in full swing in Germany from the 1530s on, and saw a great deal of iconoclasm – the destruction of religious objects – by rebelling Protestants. These angels may have been ripped down from an altar and repurposed for a new owner.

Where did it go?

<- Where did it go?

It is unclear when and how these pieces made their way from Austria across the ocean to the United States. Harvard University acquired the sculptures from Mrs. Jane Ransohoff, in memory of her husband Dr. J. Louis Ransohoff.

Why was it made?

<- Why was it made?

In the fifteenth century, lindenwood sculpture was usually reserved for religious purposes. Artists made ornate sculptures of religious figures like Jesus, Mary, other saints, or angels. In most cases, these smaller statuettes were part of large altarpieces in churches, designed to encourage prayer and devotion in churchgoers. Even though these particular pieces ended up as candleholders, they were almost certainly once part of a larger altarpiece.

Where was it produced?

<- Where was it produced?

These sculptures were made somewhere in Austria. In the late Middle Ages, most lindenwood carvings came from the southern German regions (Upper Rhine, Swabia, Franconia, and Bavaria) – mainly because lindenwood was the most readily available wood for artists there. Northern German sculptors usually used oak that they imported from the eastern Baltic Sea.

What is it?

<- What is it?

These are two wooden sculptures, each of them 8 ¾ inches (22.2 cm) tall. They are carved out of lindenwood (also called limewood). They depict finely robed angels – similar, but not identical – that are holding up columns. At one point, these columns were used to hold candlesticks, making these sculptures pieces of decorative (but practical) display art.

Material Composition: Wood, Lindenwood, Limewood

Functional Category:

Rights: © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Contact am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu

Identifier: Harvard Art Museums, BR60.2

Sources and Further Reading:


“Object #15,” Medieval Object Lessons, accessed January 16, 2021, http://dighist.fas.harvard.edu/projects/MOL/omeka/items/show/18.