Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane
Master of the St Sebastian’s Martyrdoms
Vienna, ca 1660
Height 20 cm, width 40.5 cm
Provenance: Vienna, Collection Karl Rutter, until 1970
Published in: Laue, G.: The Master of the St Sebastian’s Martyrdoms. New discoveries and catalogue raisonné. Kunstkammer Edition, Bd. 1, München 2018, WV No. 5
This large and impressive boxwood relief by the Master of the St Sebastian’s Martyrdoms depicts Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Carved with the utmost delicacy and with a remarkable sense of staging the figures’ emotional uproar in a dramatic setting, this masterpiece stands out through its exceptional plasticity testifying to the artist’s virtuosity. Little is known about the Master of the St Sebastian’s Martyrdoms except that he worked in Vienna for the emperor Ferdinand III (r. 1637-1657) and that he was one of the most influential artists specialised in small-scale sculptures of ivory and wood in the mid-17th century. His identity being unknown to this day, he was named after two ivory reliefs showing the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian that are on display at the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and at the Oberösterreichisches Museum in Linz and that were obviously executed by the same artist. These exceptional artworks present the same features as the boxwood relief discussed here, thus corroborating its attribution to the Master of the St Sebastian’s Martyrdoms: the unusual size, the tumultuous composition, the characters’ singular anatomy and postures, the facial features charged with intense emotions, and the emphasis on details informing the almost hyperrealistic depiction of the tragic events. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is one of only twenty wood and ivory sculptures known by the Master of the St Sebastian’s Martyrdom to have survived worldwide in public and private collections. An important addition to the master’s oeuvre, this highly important relief is extensively discussed and lavishly illustrated in the new volume 5 of the Kunstkammer Edition that also includes a catalogue raisonné of the known works by the Master of the St Sebastian’s Martyrdoms.