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Lucas Moser’s St. Magdalene Altarpiece: Solving the Riddle of the Sphinx Once described as a “sphinx that beckons with a thousand riddles” this dissertation presents a new understanding of some of the controversial topics surrounding Lucas Moser’s St. Magdalene Altarpiece (1432), one of the most important paintings from the late Gothic period in Germany. While interest in this altarpiece has declined in recent decades because of a lack of historical documentation, this study proposes new interpretations for many of its puzzling features by critically examining earlier research in light of more recent findings. This study contributes to the literature on the St. Magdalene Altarpiece and its artist by expanding the formal focus of earlier research to a largely contextual consideration of the work, emphasizing the importance of local and regional influences as well as broader historical factors in shaping its function, iconography and later renovation. One feature of the altarpiece considered in this study is the function of the St. Magdalene Altarpiece’s indulgence inscription. Challenging its relationship to an established Mary Magdalene cult, this identifies the St. Magdalene Altarpiece as an “indulgenced media” whose purpose was to advertise indulgence privileges held by the church at Tiefenbronn. Concerning the subject matter of the altarpiece, this dismisses the suggestion that French influence motivated the selection of Mary Magdalene, emphasizing instead her popularity in Germany and the distinctively German character of the work’s iconography. Also considered in this study are the contextual factors surrounding the sixteenth-century renovation of the St. Magdalene Altarpiece. Motivated by a larger program of redecoration in the church at Tiefenbronn this demonstrates that x the heirs of the altarpiece renovated it to stay abreast of new stylistic trends. Reflecting the growing taste for large scale altarpieces, the shrine was enlarged and its former contents replaced with a larger sculpture. Turning to the artist, rather than emphasizing foreign influences on Moser’s style this study offers new evidence for his stylistic ties to the art of his native southwest Germany. Also relevant for understanding the artist, another topic addressed is Moser’s inscription. Rather than viewing his so-called lament as an acknowledgment of his artistic weakness, how it reflects his artistic ability and intellectual aspirations is considered.


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Submitted to the faculty of the University Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy in the Hope School of Fine Arts, Department of History of Art Indiana University September 2006 ii Accepted by the Graduate Faculty, Indiana University, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

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