Leonhard Kern and Europe
The Imperial Treasury, Vienna and the Würth Collection
22 March to 26 September 2021

The Imperial Treasury, Vienna, initiated by the Hapsburgs and expanded to a degree of incomparable splendour is one of the most spectacular collections of its kind in the world. Among its highlights are the stunning sculptures by the Baroque sculptor Leonhard Kern (1588–1662). Kern ran a highly productive and influential workshop in Schwäbisch Hall which supplied Europe’s royal cabinets of curiosities.

Ivory sculptures, bronzes and 17th century paintings transport us to a world where collecting objects of the greatest craftsmanship and refinement became a symbol of political power. The Baroque Era is also the era of the Thirty Years’ War, when money for large sculptures had become scarce. This gave rise to a boom for the so-called ‘little masters’, who were able to satisfy their clients’ need for prestige in the most artistic way, and in worry-stone dimensions.

Art of this kind is also one of the special attractions of the Würth Collection. Some of its exquisite small sculptures, for example, the Parisian Laocoon Group from the Carl von Rothschild Collection in Frankfurt, long thought to have been lost, were by Leonhard Kern. The exhibition brings together for the first time the outstanding Kern-holdings from the Viennese and the Würth collections and in doing so throws light on the life and work of this exceptional artist and illustrates his important place in art history.

While studying in Rome, Kern became a virtuoso in working after the living model. The intense dialogue he also engaged in with his predecessors and contemporaries is substantiated in the exhibition in the form of works by veritable Italian stars of the period between Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque, such as Pier Jacob Alari Bonacolsi aka Antico (c. 1460–1528), Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506), the workshop of Giovanni Bologna aka Giambologna (1529–1608), Hans von Aachen (1552–1615) or Georg Petel (1601/2–1634). The artist from Hohenlohe shared their interest in works of classical Antiquity and, when it came to their spectacularly graphic inventiveness, worked confidently and on a par with them.

Parallel to this exhibition, the Hällisch-Fränkische Museum, also supported by outstanding works on loan, will highlight Leonhard Kern’s work in Schwäbisch Hall in the context of the Thirty Years’ War.

At the Kunsthalle Würth, examples of European Art of the 20th and 21st centuries from the Würth Collection will facilitate a complementary reflection on the remarkably timeless modernity of Leonhard Kern and on the artistic approaches prevalent in his day. Works by Pablo Picasso, Georg Baselitz, Alfred Hrdlicka, Fernando Botero and others invite visitors to compare and contrast unreservedly. They also offer an opportunity to view the Baroque artist from a widened contemporary angle.

A collaboration between the Kunsthalle Würth, the Kunsthistorischen Museum Wien and the Hällisch-Fränkischen Museum, Schwäbisch Hall