Softly flowing robes swathe a slender female body in rich folds. Despite the significant damage, this clay figure was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful examples of early 15th century sculpture anywhere along the Upper Rhine – and one of the most finely crafted.
This “Soft Style” with its "beautiful Madonnas" was characteristic of Late Gothic sculpture from 1380 to 1450, and this female figure no doubt took pride of place in the Romanesque abbey church.
It was discovered during the dig in the 1970s – smashed into a great many pieces. And it’s thanks to the commitment and meticulous work of the excavator, Karl List, that the "clay Madonna from Schuttern" has been painstakingly reassembled. Sadly, the head, arms and the Infant Jesus remain lost.
There are theories about how the Madonna came to be destroyed. The figure may have fallen victim to the iconoclasm that accompanied the religious wars of the Reformation. In the struggle for a new form of public worship, countless works of art were destroyed throughout Europe. And the prominent role of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic faith was just one aspect that was passionately called into question.
Rebellious peasants destroyed Schuttern Abbey on the 3rd of May 1525 ... and may also have smashed the clay figure. A later abbot gave the following description of the losses suffered during those times:
"In this peasants’ war, the house of God was completely ransacked for fruit, wine, horses, cattle, household goods; all the documents in the monastery's safekeeping, such as interest ledgers, tax registers and books of tolls, also all sealed letters, and in sum, the entire house, church, and abbey were despoiled."