Bust

Head of a young man

ca. 1480 (made)

Erhart, Michel

Height: 13.5 cm, Width: 11 cm, Diameter: 10 cm

6994-1860 SCP

Bust, carved in limewood (relief) of the head of a young man, by Michael Erhart, German (Swabian), Ulm, ca. 1480

Bust - head slightly tilted forward, and turned left. The face is framed by thick, curly hair which encircles the forehead, leaving the earlobes free, and falls down to shoulder-length at the neck. The springy curls are deeply carved and hollowed out, and form areas of deep shadows. The face is lean, with clearly defined eyebrows and cheekbones, a long slender nose and a small chin.

Erhart probably made this head for a goldsmith, who would have used wooden models to design statuettes of precious metal. The present appearance as a bust is a later modification to appeal to collectors. This reflects the process by which models came to be valued as finished works in their own right. He was probably trained in the Netherlands and the Upper Rhine and appears in the tax-rolls in Ulm in 1469, and became the leading sculptor there until his death in 1522. Most of his major works, for instance, the monochrome wood statues on the high altar of the Ulm Minster of about 1474-81, or the monumental stone figures for the Mount of Olives in front of the Minster do not survive. The busts of the choir-stalls in the Minster (about 1470), the Blaubeuren altarpiece (1493-94), and several small-scale sculptures do however give a clear picture of his contribution to the development of Late Gothic Sculpture in Ulm.

The bust together with the one of Eve were used as models in the workshop of the Ulm sculptor Michel Erhart. He was probably trained in the Netherlands and the Upper Rhine and appears in the tax-rolls in Ulm in 1469, and became the leading sculptor there until his death in 1522. Most of his major works, for instance, the monochrome wood statues on the high altar of the Ulm Minster of about 1474-81, or the monumental stone figures for the Mount of Olives in front of the Minster do not survive. The busts of the choir-stalls in the Minster (about 1470), the Blaubeuren altarpiece (1493-94), and several small-scale sculptures do however give a clear picture of his contribution to the development of Late Gothic Sculpture in Ulm. Historical significance: The bust is a excellent example for the creative process in a sculptor's workshop which became later an example of autonomous sculpture to be collected. New evidence has shown that the bust was part of a figure which entered the Kunstkammer of Rudolph II in 1609 when it was described together with the figure of Adam as "Zwy kunstlich von holtz geschnitzte bilder, Adam et Eva, hat der Hainhofer von Augsburg hierher kommen lassen und hat derselben Ihr Mt verehrt anno 1609, beisammen in einer Schubladen" (two virtuoso carvings in wood, Adam and Eve which has Hainhofer from Augsburg given to her Majesty in the year 1609, both are preserved in a box)

Location: Medieval and Renaissance, room 64, case 20

View this object on the V&A website