The Altarpiece of the Cistercian Abbey of Stift Stams in Austria

Given its verticality and grandiose subject matter and symbolism, it is a surprise to me that the Tree of Jesse -- which comes with reference to the royal lineage and genealogy of Christ -- has not been a more popular subject for altarpieces. Certainly the marriage of the two would naturally seem to lend themselves  to one another.  

While not strictly a "Jesse Tree," an example of this type of theme -- more so the Tree of Life -- can certainly be seen in this work crafted for the most part by the early seventeenth century German sculptor and woodcarver,  Bartholomäus Steinle. Steinle was known for combining elements of the gothic style and those of the renaissance and early baroque into what would become known as the "Weilheim School" of sculpture, so named because of the town of Weilheim from whence his workshop hailed. The particular work is question is situated at the Austrian Cistercian Abbey of Stift Stams.

The altarpiece contains 84 sculptures in total and was mainly created around the year 1610.  The main central depiction is that of the Madonna and Child, surrounded on either by St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, Ss. Peter and Paul. Above this, in the upper tier, is an image of the Assumption of the Virgin. Surrounding all of these primary figures are tree branches and shoots, intermingled with various figures from the Old and New Testaments as well as saints. 

The proportions of the altar and its reredos certainly align to its time -- coming in a triptych like form (without actually being a functional triptych).  For those who are perceiving some distinctive stylistic differences between the foreground of the altarpiece and its backdrop, this is due to the fact they actually date from two different periods and artists.  While the foreground sculptural elements are those which are attributable to Steinle, representing the medieval and renaissance influences, the backdrop, coming in the form of a royal blue "cloth" held by two cherubs, is a later baroque addition by Franz Xavier Feichtmayr, done in 1731.  In one altarpiece then we are witness to the stylistic differences that could be found only one century apart from one another; the rather more staid and stationary depictions of the gothic and renaissance merged with the baroque period's dramatic interest in capturing emotions and a sense of movement.

I would be remiss to not share with our readers a more general view of the chapel in which the altarpiece is situated, so here are just a few more pictures showing this once Romanesque church which has since been transformed into a baroque jewel-box. 

The monastic choir in the chancel looking from the high altar toward the nave

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