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Fragment of the Lenten Veil by Thomas of Villach

06 March 2015 to 25 May 2015
Palace Stables, Lower BelvedereBelvedere

Since 2009, the collection of medieval art at the Belvedere has been enriched by a precious textile. This outstanding and previously unknown “tüchlein” painting on linen is part of a late Gothic Lenten veil. CURRENTLY RESTORED. Fragment of the Lenten Veil by Thomas von Villach can be seen at the Medieval Treasury Study Collection in the Palace Stables at the Lower Belvedere from 6 March through 25 May 2015. It depicts scenes from the Old Testament: the Gathering of Manna, Moses Drawing Water from the Rock, the Brazen Serpent, the Dance around the Golden Calf, and Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law. Lenten veils have been documented for over one thousand years. During the forty days of Lent before Easter they were used to veil choirs, altarpieces, crosses or devotional images. Painted examples first appear in Central Europe in the early fifteenth century, however, especially in the region of the Alps. This fragment can be dated around 1470–80 and so can be placed in this category of artworks from the region.
This sensational discovery was made in 2008 when the art collection at the castle Frey Schlössl on the Mönchsberg in Salzburg was broken up. The businessman, amateur photographer, and collector Carl von Frey (1826–1896) had furnished and decorated his Neo-Gothic summer residence with medieval artworks and furniture. The Frey collection was not completely documented in the published record of Salzburg art collections in 1919, which explains why the veil was discovered so late. This piece must originate from a Lenten veil with abundant images, probably depicting the History of Salvation from the Creation to the Last Judgment. These series of images, including comparable scenes from the story of Moses, can also be found on the few surviving Gothic Lenten veils in Gurk, Zittau in Saxony, St. Lambrecht in Styria, and Haimburg in Carinthia. The oldest and largest of these is the Gurk Lenten veil of 1458, comprising ninety-nine images covering a total area of ca. 890 x 890 cm. The impressive effect of this vast veil can be experienced to this day at Gurk Cathedral, where it forms a visual barrier to the high altarpiece from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. Possibly this fragment from the Frey Collection is the remains of a similarly vast Lenten veil from a large church in Carinthia, where it once hung, although there is no way of finding this out. We do know, however, that it was painted by Thomas “Artula” of Villach, the most important Carinthian painter of his day. His extensive oeuvre also included the wall paintings at Gerlamoos, Thörl, St. Paul im Lavanttal, and Graz Cathedral, as well as panel paintings, today largely housed in museums at Villach, Klagenfurt, and Bolzano. This Lenten veil fragment is the first and only known textile by Thomas of Villach.
When it was purchased, the damaged and faded veil was contaminated with the spores of dry rot; this called for immediate action. The Abegg Foundation in Riggisberg near Bern, one of the world’s leading institutions for historical textiles, took in the imperiled object for examination and conservation work. Now fortunately saved from further deterioration, the veil fragment will be presented next Lent in the Belvedere’s collection of medieval art at the Palace Stables as part of the exhibition series Aktuell restauriert. A publication, compiled in collaboration with the Abegg Foundation, will be brought out in conjunction with the show. We would like to thank the Abegg Foundation for its support and for the great dedication of all the conservators involved in this project.
In Cooperation with Abegg-Stiftung, Riggisberg