Michael Pacher: Saint Wolfgang altarpiece (1471-1481)

(Church of St. Wolfgang, St. Wolfgang, Austria)
A giant altarpiece made by the Austrian artist Michael Pacher (1435-1498). This altarpiece was commissioned by Abbot Benedict Eck of Mondsee for the Church of Sankt Wolfgang on the Abersee where the piece still is today (this is very rare, usually these large altarpieces were taken apart in later centuries and sold to various collectors). The entire piece measures about 40 x 20 feet, 12 x 6 m, and is a combination of architecture, sculpture and painting. The construction consists of several parts with the two wings having an outer side, middle and inner side allowing the church to present the piece in three ways:

- on a weekday: with both wings completely closed
- on a Sunday: wings half open with central part covered
- on a feast day: completely open (shown here)

The central piece is made from lindenwood, gilded with gold, and shows the court of Heaven with the coronation of Mary as queen of Heaven. On the left side of this court is saint Wolfgang and on the right is saint Benedict (both are patron saints of this church). As this part is three dimensional, it contains a choir of angels, the Holy spirit (the white dove) and a sculpted Gothic architecture.

The left and right inner panels show four scenes from the life of Mary (the circumcision of Christ, the Nativity, the presentation in the temple and the death of Mary). The outer and middle side of these panels show scenes from the live of saint Wolfgang, Christ and the four church-fathers of the Western church.

The lower panel (the predella) shows the adoration of the Magi, flanked by two painted panel with the visitation and the flight into Egypt.

The top part (the 'Gesprenge') shows at its top the Annunciation with the archangel Gabriel, Mary and God the Father. Beneath the Annunciation is the crucifixion of Christ with Mary and John. On the left side of the gesprenge is the archangel Michael and above him a holy nun, probably Saint Scholastica of Nursia. On the right is John the Baptist with above him Saint Odile of Alsace.

The contract for this altarpiece was signed in 1471, Michael Pacher personally delivered and installed the finished piece in 1481.