Sculpture: The fine local materials - marble from South Tyrol (Laas, Sterzing) and Salzburg as well as limestone and sandstone - provided the basis for the early flourishing of stone sculpture in Austria. Originally stone sculpture appeared as architectural sculpture and was intimately related with the buildings themselves, while wood was preferred for moveable works and decoration.
Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque sculpture in Austria had close links with masters and schools outside Austria and was thus influenced by Southern Germany, in particular Bavaria, and occasionally also by Italy, France and Spain. These influences were mostly brought into Austria by travelling artists. The excellent architectural and religious sculpture of that time was primarily produced for the church and were largely lost as the buildings themselves fell into disuse and decay.
However, a large number of superb works of the Romanesque period have survived in Austria. Among the most significant are the relief of the Virgin from Salzburg, the crucifixes from Ludesch, Gaal and Goess, the rood screen group in Seckau, the Salvator mundi from Salzburg, the Gurk portal relief and the tombstone of the last Babenberg, Friedrich II, at Heiligenkreuz monastery.
Along with Salzburg, the Vienna area acquired a dominant position in the 13th century. Here a school of builders and masons developed, which continued the tradition of the 12th century and whose great significance was expressed in the sculptures for St. Stephen's Cathedral. The large and elaborate portal forms belong predominantly to the late Romanesque period of the 13th century (e.g., the "Riesentor" of St. Stephen's cathedral, the portal of the Franciscan church in Salzburg, the collegiate churches of St. Paul im Lavanttal and Heiligenkreuz, the parish church in Tulln). The sculptural decoration on the apse of Schoengrabern church (around 1240/50) is unique in Austria; comparable works exist only in France and Italy.
Late Gothic individual pieces like statues of the Virgin, figures of saints, crucifixes and tombstones (Viktring, Gurk, Heiligenkreuz, Wilhering) are relatively numerous.
The Gothic style reached Austria around 1250, and many sculptural works of this period are among the most significant extant in Europe. However, indications of the location and time of origin are sparse, and little is known about the artists. In the early Gothic phase of the 14th century, the centre of Austrian sculpture was the Vienna area around the ducal court. Typically Austrian features are particularly conspicuous in the statues of the Virgin, the most notable examples being the so-called Vienna "Dienstbotenmadonna" (The Servants' Madonna") and the statues of the Virgin from Klosterneuburg, St. Florian and Admont. In the second half of the 14th century, the court of Charles IV in Prague was an important model, inspiring an intensive artistic exchange which led to the assimilation of international influences.
Around 1400, Austrian sculpture culminated in a "soft style", which found its most eloquent expression in the pietàs (in particular those of the Viennese, Lower Austrian, Styian and Carinthian sculpture schools) and the Bohemian so-called "Beautiful Virgin Mary" statues (in particular in Salzburg and Upper Styria). In the 15th century much artistic activity was already going on in every province, with Graz, Innsbruck and Wiener Neustadt occasionally surpassing Vienna. Among the many local schools of art, those of Grosslobming and Salzburg achieved major significance. Around 1430 a realistic style (also known as "hard style") emerged, which developed primarily in Vienna, but also in the Alpine provinces. Its main exponents were J. Kaschauer and the Master of the Znaim Altar. One of the most important functions of sculpture in this period was altar carving (winged altars). In the course of the 15th century, sculpture, which had long been almost exclusively in the service of the church and the nobility, increasingly found customers among the middle class. The famous sculptors of Late Gothic and Renaissance Gothic in Austria include N. Gerhaert van Leyden, J. Kaschauer, M. Pacher, L. Astl, L. Luchsperger, H. Valkenauer, A. Pilgram well as the Master of the winged altars in Kefermarkt and Mauer bei Melk.
The late Gothic conception of form and expression continued well into the 16th century. As in other forms of art, from 1500 a change in the perception of the body and of nature occurred, which characterised the style of the Danube school. Representatives of this period in Austria include A. Lackner, the Master of the Pulkau altar and the Master I. P. Works like the sculptural decoration on the "Goldene Dachl" (the "Golden Roof") or the bronze statues of the tomb of Maximilian in Innsbruck characterise the transition to the Renaissance. In the 16th century, casting in metal, previously only used in crafts, became one of the most important sculptural techniques.
Renaissance sculpture gave independence to the human figure. The monumental tomb sculptures at the turn of the 17th century (mausoleum of Duke Karl II in Seckau, the chapel in the Innsbruck Hofkirche where Archduke Ferdinand II and Philippine Welser are buried, the mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II in Graz) provide magnificent examples. Important sculptors of this period were A. Colin and H. Saphoy.
The Baroque period once more produced notable Austrian sculptors and carvers, and Italian artists in Austria were soon engaging in lively exchange with the prevailing style. Favoured by the political events, the number of Austrian master sculptors was increasing (M. Guggenbichler, M. B. Mandl, the Schwanthaler family, Paul and Peter Strudel, the Zuern family). These sculptors developed their own mode of expression from local conditions, in particular in areas in which tradition had been maintained from the Late Middle Ages. In many ways sculpture reflected the Baroque dramatic art which aimed at a synthesis of all the arts. While at the beginning the individual was only part of a whole, the figures and groups soon became epic cycles in their own right intended to explain the spiritual and historical situation of the Austria of the time. Sculptors were contracted to create numerous works (wayside shrines, plague columns, garden sculpture) and again placed sculpture predominantly in the service of architecture. The charming narrative style which developed in the area of the eastern Danube (for example, M. Steinl's architectural work in Duernstein, Melk, and Zwettl) created a unique and almost "musical" mood in their use of colour, which is also characteristic of Austrian Baroque sculpture.
The sculptures of the 18th century were executed by artists like G. Giuliani and G. R. Donner. Their great influence on Austrian sculptural tradition can be measured against the works of their pupils and successors. The most important sculptors of the late Baroque and Rococo period in Austria include F. X. Messerschmidt, J. Schletterer, J. T. Stammel, B. Moll and J. G. Dorfmeister.
In the Rococo the art of intimate sculptural genre scenes reached even the smallest village church. At the same time, porcelain figurines were becoming increasingly popular in Vienna porcelain manufacturing. In the Baroque period, academies emerged as training institutions for sculptors, of which the Vienna Akademie der bildenden Kuenste was most attractive for students. Among its teachers were Matthaeus Donner, B. Moll and J. Schletterer. In the 1870s, the requirement for someone to be officially discharged from his articles of apprenticeship before he could practise as an academic sculptor was abolished. The Baroque forms of expression were in many ways passed on into the 19th century (J. B. Hagenauer, A. Grassi).
The renewal of sculpture was first brought to Austria by Romanticism, orienting itself on classical and French models (A. Canova, F. A. Zauner, J. Klieber). Sculpture played a subordinate role in the Vormaerz period, and only in miniature work, in particular porcelain figurines, were there any notable achievements. Only the second half of the 19th century saw sculptors again being entrusted with prestigious commissions, such as the developments around the Vienna Ringstrasse. Alongside architectural sculpture, the design of monuments and portrait sculpture acquired a new expression of perfection. Famous sculptors of the Gruenderzeit were A. D. Fernkorn, C. von Zumbusch, V. Tilgner, C. Kundmann and H. Gasser.
At the turn of the 20th century, a new emancipation of sculpture began. Sculpture was no longer dominated by architecture and aimed at searching for its own forms of expression. In Austria the theoretical basis for this movement was provided by Hellmer and the Vienna Secession. But the first breakthrough was made by A. Hanak, who was still rooted in the forms of production of the Gruenderzeit, but re-opened discussion on the expressive qualities of the different materials and their appropriate use in sculpture. After the Second World War many of his pupils became leading figures of Austrian sculpture (F. Wotruba, H. Leinfellner, S. Charoux). The human form also became a central subject for Austrian sculptors such as A. Urteil, H. Knesl, W. Bertoni, R. Hoflehner, O. Bottoli, J. Avramidis, J. Pillhofer, M. Bilger-Biljan and A. Hrdlicka. At the same time, new definitions were attempted and numerous different forms of artistic expression developed, often related to new media and techniques. There were also many attempts to cross the lines between the individual areas of the fine arts.
Currently the most famous Austrian sculptors include A. Hrdlicka, J. Pillhofer, W. Goetzinger, K. Prantl, W. Pichler, E. Wurm, H. Kupelwieser, F. X. Oelzant, I. Kienast, J. Schagerl, B. Gironcoli, F. West, M. Wakolbinger, W. Wuertinger, M. Maderna and G. Moswitzer.
Literature#E. Tietze-Conrat, Oesterreichische Barockplastik, 1926; F. Novotny, Romanische Bauplastik in Oesterreich, 1930; H. Decker, Barockplastik in den Alpenlaendern, 1944; G. von der Osten, Plastik des 19. Jahrhunderts in Deutschland, Oesterreich and der Schweiz, 1961; J. Muschik, Oesterreichische Plastik seit 1945, 1966; Gotik in Oesterreich, exhibition catalogue, Krems 1967; R. Wagner-Rieger (ed.), Die Wiener Ringstrasse, vol. IX, 3 parts, 1973-1980; Die Renaissance in Oesterreich, exhibition catalogue, Schallaburg 1974; Neue Wege des plastischen Gestaltens in Oesterreich, exhibition catalogue, Graz 1984; I. Dolinschek, Die Bildhauerwerke in den Ausstellungen der Wiener Secession von 1898-1910, 1989.