Switzerland: Hans Geiler's Altarpiece Returns to Estavayer-le-Lac Monastery

October 14, 2020
Source: fsspx.news
Detail of the altarpiece: the Adoration of the Magi

On August 15, 2020, on the feast of the Assumption, the Dominicans of Estavayer-le-Lac in Fribourg, Switzerland, reinstalled in the church of the monastery the altarpiece-triptych made by Hans Geiler, the Fribourg sculptor of Alsatian origin, in 1527.

Its coffer features magnificent linden tree sculptures made by the artist and his assistants. In the central panel, the Virgin Mary - patron saint of the monastery - is represented as the Virgin of the Apocalypse, the moon at her feet and in her arms the Child Jesus, who holds a globe in His hand and blesses with other.

Of the four angels who surrounded Mary, two have now disappeared. There remains a musician angel and an angel holding a crown above the head of the Virgin. On Mary’s right, St. Dominic holds the book of the Gospels to his chest, while with his right hand he holds his pilgrim’s staff (missing). This is the attitude of the Preacher traveling the world to teach the Word. To the left of Mary, the Doctor of the Eucharist, St. Thomas Aquinas, carries in his hand a monstrance (now disappeared) and points to Christ present in the host.

The altarpiece had been commissioned by Sr. Maurice de Blonay and her relative, the Bishop of Belley, Claude d´Estavayer, commendatory abbot of Hautecombe, in Savoy. Hans Geiler, from Haut-Rhin, established himself as the best artist in Fribourg, in the midst of artistic effervescence. The triptych was intended to adorn the high altar of the church of the monastery of Estavayer-le-Lac.

In 1702, after the reconstruction of the church, the altarpiece was relegated to the bottom of the right side aisle, facing the front door. And in 1882, the community, which needed funds to finance a new renovation of the chapel, sold it to an antique dealer in Lausanne. He then handed it over to the de Blonay family in the canton of Vaud, who had partially financed the production of the work at the time. The latter was placed in the Château de Grandson, which belonged to the family.

In 1958, the triptych was purchased by the Gottfried Keller Foundation with the help of friends of the community. The altarpiece was then restored and then replaced in the nave of the monastery church in 1961. But, over the years and the changes in humidity in the building, the work deteriorated again. On the occasion of the Sculpture 1500 exhibition at the Museum of Art and History of Fribourg, in 2011-2012, it underwent a new restoration, before being exhibited at the museum. Thanks to a compromise with the museum, the triptych was able to come back to the Dominican convent.

In addition to the Estavayer-Blonay altarpiece, Hans Geiler also created the Virgin and Child (Virgin Tièche) in the Church of Saint-Nicolas in Fribourg, the Furno altarpiece, in the Cordeliers church in Fribourg, the Fountain of Saint George in the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville in Fribourg, as well as the Holy Deacon, visible at the Museum of Art and History of Fribourg.