As the evangelist and one of Jesus’ favourite disciples, John is standing next to the grieving Mother of God at the foot of the cross. He is looking reverently up to his Master. His face, framed by curls, is a picture of pain and sympathy. Forming a kind of Holy Theatre, Jesus, Mary and John together form a dynamic triangular composition in glazed, ivory-coloured porcelain. Alongside the impressive works of Johann Baptist Straub, this piece can be considered among the most beautiful small religious sculptures of the Rococo period.
When His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visited Munich in May 2006, His Royal Highness Duke Franz of Bavaria presented him with the manufactory’s religiously-themed gem, namely the “Crucifixion Group” by Franz Anton Bustelli. Mary, one of the central figures in the ensemble, is wearing a girded dress, cloak and veil. The pained expression of the Mother of God is directed upwards toward her Son; she is speechless with horror. Bustelli succeeded in expressing all this woman’s immense suffering in the moving folds of her robe. It is a Mannerist masterpiece, evidenced by all three of the figures.
A glance at Jesus’ crown alone, with each thorn handcrafted from fine porcelain mass, shows just how much time was required to make this sculpture of Jesus on the cross. In total, it took a good two months. Every tendon, every vein is visible on the young man’s snow-white, muscular body. Despite the highly dramatic quality of the struggle between death and salvation, the purity of the porcelain lends the figure an almost magical transparency. This also fascinates celebrities like Sir Elton John, who added the “Beau Dieu”, as it is affectionately called, to his collection some years ago.
Like Franz Anton Bustelli, Franz Ignaz Günther is among the Manufactory's most important Rococo sculptors. However, in contrast to his fellow craftsmen, he devoted himself to church interiors, altars and robed figures. In 1754, Prince Elector Max III Joseph authorised him to work outside the court and commissioned a crucifix. Thus presumably in 1756, Günther designed this 41-centimetre-tall figure of Christ that was to hang on an ebony cross. The slim body of Jesus on the cross, with his fluttering loincloth, is reproduced in exact detail and each of the up to 100 thorns in his crown is made individually by hand.
When Ignaz Günther designed his majestic Crucifix, presumably in 1756, at the foot of the cross, alongside the bones, there was also a skull. With its striking eye sockets and stylised form of the jaw, the four-centimetre-tall Skull is a great artefact. Four separate casts are required to produce this miniature in the master workshops – even the jaw has its own cast. Today, this memento mori is among the most popular of the Manufactory's products. It has also been available in black bisque porcelain since 2009.
This statue, Pietà, is a sculptural masterpiece. To date, no 18th-century moulded version has been found and its creator remains unknown, yet the composition points to the hand of a very experienced master sculptor. Christ's body is not, as is usually the case, laying across his mother's lap, but is partially laying on the floor, as in late Gothic works. His left arm is curved around Mary's right knee, by which action he is laboriously holding his upper body upright. The drama of the composition, which measures just 24 centimetres in height, can be seen in precise detail thanks to the clear execution in ivory-coloured porcelain.
Worship of Mary as the patron of Bavaria has a long tradition. Thus a great many different artists devoted themselves to portraying the crowned Mother of God. As a freelance artist, between 1934 and 1976 Franz Xaver Lorch created numerous designs for the Manufactory. In 1946, the specialist in monumental religious wooden sculptures created this 34-centimetre-tall likeness of the Patrona Bavariae in glazed, ivory-coloured porcelain, in which Mary seems wholly inwardly focused. The Baby Jesus on her arm has his hand raised in blessing.
The eponymous leitmotif of the Rococo era is rocaille, flourishing, asymmetrical shell ornamentation in C and S scrolls, characterised by great lightness and elegant delicateness. Franz Anton Bustelli created his Stoup using the flowing, undulating forms of rocaille tendrils and volutes. As the body of the structure blends as it were with the reliefwork of the ornament, no lathe is required to make this basin for holy water, only a modeller and an embosser, who forms the numerous flowers and leaves freehand and subsequently decorates them.
Worship of Mary as Patrona Bavariae was officially introduced under Prince Elector Maximilian I. To give thanks that Munich and Landshut managed to avoid the war, in 1638 he had the famous statue of the Mother of God erected on Marienplatz in Munich. It served as the model for the 45-centimetre-tall protector of Bavaria that Franz Xaver Lorch, who created monumental, large religious sculptures, designed for the Manufactory in 1955. Bearing the insignia of sovereignty of the crown, sceptre and globus cruciger, Mary, standing on the crescent moon, is carrying the Baby Jesus on her left arm.
The Manufactory's handmade religious figures are highly sought-after worldwide. One of the most popular works is Ignaz Günther's Skull, measuring just four centimetres in height. Taken from the Crucifix composition, presumably originally designed in 1756, it has also been available separately as a memento mori for several years. Initially it was produced only in glazed, ivory-coloured porcelain. Since 2009, the striking Skull has also been available in white or black bisque porcelain.
As a symbol of the transience of human life as well as earthly possessions, mortal remains remind us to focus on what is truly important. This stylised skull, measuring just four centimetres, is a miniature masterpiece uniting religion, science and art. Ignaz Günther designed it as early as 1756. Since 2009, this Nymphenburg classic has also been available in black biscuit porcelain.