A detail from the high altar of the Basilica of St Michael in Mondsee continues the popular series of “Religious art in Austria”. The early Baroque high altar, over 18 m high, dates back to 1626 and was created by the sculptor Hans Waldburger. The son of the court sculptor Leonhard Waldburger, he was born in Innsbruck in 1571, and called by Archbishop Wolf Dietrich to Salzburg where he worked for the monasteries of St Peter and Nonnberg. The high altar of the Mondsee Basilica is, however, the only intact surviving altar by Waldburger. It was the start of the artistic renewal of the monastery church after the chaos of theReformation era. The altar screen in black and gold in the form of a triumphal arch altar stands in the sanctuary before the central choir window. The tabernacle above the altar is surrounded by a huge seven-part reliquary whose richly decorated shrines were gradually occupied with special relics from 1731 up to the millennium celebrations in 1748 – thus creating one of the largest reliquary altars in Austria in Mondsee. In the middle, in a raised position, it contains the bones of Blessed Abbot Konrad II, whose skeleton was reassembled to create a seated figure in 1732, and at his sides the recumbent skeletons of 4 catacomb saints.
The dominant sculptured central scene shows the Coronation of Mary by the Holy Trinity, witnessed by Sts. Benedict and Wolfgang. The Coronation is flanked by the apostles Peter and Paul in the lateral scalloped niches underneath two rectangular panel paintings representing the Annunciation. The outer sculptures represent the Agilofing Duke Odilo II and his son Tassilo III. The centre is occupied by the figure of the Archangel Michael, flanked by Sts. Stephen and Lawrence. The altar has been extended in the choir by the addition of the people’s altar, the ambo and the abbot’s seat, an ensemble that stands out for its simplicity and balance and was created for the Basilica in 2008 by the South Tyrolean artist Lois Anvidalfarei. The choir also used to contain the symbols of the basilica minor: the yellow and red striped conopeum (originally a protective canopy for the Eucharist during processions) and the tintinnabulum (a small bell on a pole, likewise used for processions).
Hans Waldburger created numerous works in Salzburg, the most important of which include the Susanna Fountains in the Spa Gardens, a number of garden figures in Hellbrunn Palace, the organ at St Peter’s, the organ casing of the parish church of St Wolfgang and the former high altar in Nonnberg Monastery.
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