Carving a niche? A reassessment of early sixteenth-century sculpture production in Hildesheim
thesisposted on 21.02.2014, 11:16 by Conny Bailey
The town of Hildesheim in the German state of Lower Saxony is generally accepted to have been home to a uniquely recognizable and contradictory assembly of early-sixteenth-century sculpture executed in a highly distinctive carving style that appears to have emerged suddenly in the region today defined as southern Lower Saxony, and vanished as imperceptibly forty years later. Its surviving examples range from exceptional to mediocre, and are found scattered across the breadth of Northern Germany, with some also in notable collections abroad. A small number of these sculptures have traditionally been associated with the locally documented master Hinrick Stavoer. Based upon a signature on a retable located in the town of Enger in Westfalia, Stavoer’s oeuvre has been judged by scholarship to represent competent joinery work with little artistic flair or merit. Consequently, Stavoer was excluded from the reconstructions of a more meritorious sculpture production, and relocated to the neighbouring town of Brunswick. The more sophisticated works from Hildesheim were divided amongst several autonomous workshops, each presided over by an anonymous master who all orientated their own outputs on the dominant artistic personality of the day, the equally anonymous Master of St. Benedict. The result is a production that is characterized by its remarkable homogeneity and interchangeability. The almost complete absence of secure provenance, coupled with a connoisseurship typified by prevailing contemporary autocratic traditions of scholarship, have created a de-contextualized and de-constructed art history that has neglected to consider the much greater number of less sophisticated but historically equally significant works. Taking the historic attributions to Hinrick Stavoer and the known primary evidence relating to him as its departure point, this thesis revisits the existing precepts of Hildesheim sculpture. It successfully challenges its long-held assumptions, and presents a new basis for our understanding of early-sixteenth-century sculpture from southern Lower Saxony.