Karl Schuster

St. Oswald’s Chapel in the Höllental Valley, 1904

About the object

This small chapel is located near the Ravenna Bridge and is considered one of the oldest surviving Parish churches in the Black Forest. Church life played a pivotal role for the people. It structured everyday life, provided stability and order, and on feast days it also offered joy and refuge from hard work.
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Church life was important to the inhabitants of the Black Forest. Holidays, liturgies, and processions gave structure to their often harsh and burdensome lives and offered a sense of stability and order. For them, it was worth the long and sometimes difficult journey to St. Oswald’s Chapel, above all in the winter. The small church is located in the Höllental valley, near the Ravenna Bridge and next to the “Sternen” inn. The painting by Karl Schuster shows nothing of these difficult conditions, but instead depicts the chapel from the rear in a peaceful, idyllic summer view. The perspective chosen by the artist includes neither the monumental Ravenna Bridge nor the neighboring Sternen inn; in this way, an effect of utter solitude and quiet is created. Schuster concentrates fully on the embeddedness of the church in the landscape, and the diagonal lines of the hills reinforce this focus. The chapel’s architectural- historical significance may have especially appealed to Schuster, who studied both painting and architecture. The chapel is one of the oldest surviving parish churches in the High Black Forest; built in the Romanesque style, it was consecrated in 1148 by Bishop Hermann of Constance as the proprietary church of the lords of Falkenstein, after whom the valley itself was originally named (Falkensteiner Tal). The chapel was dedicated to St. Oswald of Northumbria, a Northumbrian king of the 7th century. The St. Oswald altarpiece in the interior of the chapel is attributed to the workshop of Hans Baldung Grien (1484–1545). It has often been discussed whether St. Oswald’s Chapel should be closed, especially since there has been a church in Hinterzarten since 1416 to whose parish St. Oswald belonged. The distance to the newer church, however, above all for the inhabitants of the region “unter der Steig,” constituted an argument for the preservation of St. Oswald’s. The chapel was also useful to travelers along the Höllental valley as well as visitors to the Sternen inn or the local postal station. MIRJA STRAUB (Transl. MELISSA THORSON)

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