Skip to main content

Laser Surgery for Saint Veronica

One of the seven Stations of the Cross from around 1500. They are currently undergoing restoration. (Photo: epd-bild/Timo Lechner)

Many sites of the Reformation have been restored in time for its anniversary year, sites like the Castle Church or, most recently, the Luther Room in Wittenberg. But other religious works of art will also greet 2017’s jubilee in new splendour: Adam Kraft’s Stations of the Cross in Nuremberg’s Germanisches Nationalmuseum are currently undergoing restoration; at the very least, the cleaning stage will be complete by Easter. It is not just the ravages of time that have eroded the seven Stations of the Cross since 1500. Soot, heavy metals and wars and not least nineteenth-century painters have all had an impact on the relief. When stone restorer Katrin Müller gets to work with her laser, she is often left shaking her head in astonishment.

“I can hardly get at it with my stylus, but Adam Kraft managed with his tools,” relates an amazed Müller. As a highly-qualified restorer she has come across a great deal in her career, but cannot contain her enthusiasm when she talks about her work on Kraft’s stone relief depicting scenes of the Passion. She has been working on the relief in the Nationalmuseum’s Carthusian church without interruption since 2015, removing sections and free-standing pieces – mainly to clean them up.

For the seven depictions of Christ’s route to Golgatha were not always displayed in a protected museum. For centuries, they were located on the pilgrim’s way from Nuremberg’s old centre to St. John’s Cemetery, built into house or garden walls. Hence, they have also been painted or even had foreign materials added.

A laser removes the crust of environmental influences

During the nineteenth century, painters at the Nuremberg academy of fine art attempted to decorate the relief, using organic substances such as resin or shellac. Over the centuries, the sandstone has also been exposed to all kinds of environmental pollution, creating a substantial crust that is now being removed bit by bit using a 20-watt laser.

Dark discolorations are being removed, and the various pieces of the relief are also to be brought into a uniform state, rendering it recognisable as a whole work of art again. The first pieces were salvaged in the late nineteenth century, the last shortly after the Second World War.

Stone restorer Katrin Müller is working on the relief in the Carthusian church at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. (Photo: epd-bild/Timo Lechner)

“Nobody has seen this face for centuries,” says Müller, pointing to a head that can be made out only vaguely behind another figure. She has restored its features. She spends around two weeks on each relief; the work will continue to take several months. The restoration project costs 125,000 euros, two thirds of which have been provided by the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation. The rest has been covered by members of the museum sponsors’ group Förderkreis des Germanischen Nationalmuseums and by the museum itself.

“What we have here is a leading work of German cultural history,” explains Frank Matthias Kammel, the head of the museum’s pre-1800 sculpture collection, who mentions Adam Kraft in the same breath as Tilmann Riemenschneider and Veit Stoß. “Many people in Nuremberg are not so aware of this treasure,” he adds with a glance towards the works created between 1505 and 1508.

Kraft mentioned in the same breath as Riemenschneider and Veit Stoß

The tabernacle in St. Laurence’s Church is considered Nuremberg artist Adam Kraft’s masterpiece. Another of his famous works is the Schreyer-Landauer epitaph on the outer wall of the east choir of St. Sebald’s Church from the years 1490/92, also depicting scenes from the Passion.

The seven Stations of the Cross are one of the later works of an artist who was already a master of his trade. The biblical figures appear lifelike, full of expression and rich in detail. But they have suffered a lot. Such as the scene depicting Veronica wrapping Christ in the shroud. During a bombing raid in the Second World War it splintered into around 50 pieces that fell into red-hot rubble. Citizens brought them to the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, where they were put back together again and the fractures hidden with dark paint. Around seventy years later, it is a case for Katrin Müller.

The museum says the entire restoration project will last until the autumn. At the very latest, the Stations of the Cross will be revealed in new splendour for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on 31 October.

Information

Author:Timo Lechner/luther2017.de Source:epd Date:09-03-17
Keywords:
Art, Restoration, Anniversary of the Reformation, Nuremberg, Stations of the Cross

Nuremberg

Soon, a large number of Nuremberg's citizens professed the Lutheran teachings. Martin Luther said about Nuremberg that the city is "Germany's eye and ear". With 21 printing houses, Nuremberg was the media capital of its time.