Artwork of the month February

Ferdinand Nigg, Hirten sahen den Stern ..., undated, Irmgard Barbey-Schlegel Foundation / Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein

Ferdinand Nigg

* 1865 in Vaduz, † 1949 in Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Hirten sahen den Stern ..., undated

Wool and cotton embroidery on canvas

85 × 95 cm

Irmgard Barbey-Schlegel Foundation / Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz


The embroidered wall hanging Hirten sahen den Stern … (Shepherds saw the star …) by Ferdinand Nigg depicts the Biblical tale of the shepherds who followed the Star of Bethlehem to pay homage to the baby Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem. The first thing that strikes the viewer is the different patterns and colours that make up the image. Black-and-white diamonds and checks abut green, black, brown and yellow stripe patterns that serve as abstract outlines of the vestments. The background of the scene is undefined save for a few yellow stars and the embroidered blackletter words "Hirten sahen den Stern, hörten den Engel des Herrn, sahen in des Kindes Blick das grosse ewige Glück" (Shepherds saw the star, heard the angel of the Lord, saw great eternal happiness in the child's eyes). The depth of the image is created by staggering the figures one behind the other. The protagonists' bodies, then, are not rendered fully in three dimensions but are rather defined two-dimensionally by the meeting of different embroidery patterns. Two features bring the image to life despite its flat arrangement: the faces, particularly the eyes, and the hands. Indeed, these are the only visible body parts. Despite the simple means with which Nigg forms the bodies and creates the three-dimensional effect, the figures appear very animated, with no two hands pointing in the same direction. The composition of the image focuses the eye on the narrative and visual centre of attention: the baby Jesus and his mother Mary. Arranged around this holy group we can make out other people, although the only figure who actually comes physically close to them is the angel floating down from above, his child-like right hand touching the baby Jesus, his left hand raised as if in presentation to the viewer.

The staggered arrangement of the figures, their gazes, and the different pointing gestures create an eminent condensation of the narrative. Gestures and facial expressions combine with the liveliness of the colours and the abstract embroidery patterns of the vestments in a carefully thought-out dramaturgy, so that the figures not only point to themselves and their emotion but also to the events at the centre of the image.

Christina Lehnert

<b>Ferdinand Nigg, Hirten sahen den Stern ..., undated, Irmgard Barbey-Schlegel Foundation / Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein</b>
Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein highlights a work from the permanent collection each month throughout the year. Works from the collection of the Hilti Art Foundation are also included in this series on a regular basis.