The museum collection of religious sculpture with artefacts in a temporal sequence from the first half of the 15th to the first decades of the 20th century makes up one of the biggest and most important sets of its kind in Croatia. Collecting religious sculpture goes back to the very beginning of the formation of the Museum; as early as 1884 the nucleus of the collection was created with the purchase of a group of mainly Late Gothic wooden carved polychromed and gilded altar statues and partially preserved winged altars that in 1859 was given to the then parish priest in Vrbovec near Zagreb by Austrian painter and restorer Josef Ritter von Hempel, owner of an estate in Vrbovec. This acquisition is exhibited almost in its entirety in the permanent display. In the stylistic and typological and morphological features the sculptures reveal their origins in the Tyrol-South German cultural sphere, while the time scale ranges from the late 1480s to the first few years of the 16th century.
The retable of the winged altar with statues of St Urban and St Barbara in the central niche is the most complete artefact in the group. The formal and typological/stylistic features of the architecturally-formed assemblage of the altar tell of the Tyrolean origin in the 1490s. A statue of St Stephen Protomartyr and a bust of Christ in Pain with Mary and St John the Evangelist, a frequent iconographic topic, usually placed in the niche of the altar predella, derives from the same time and geographical context. A statue of a saint without attributes in secular clothing and a statue of St Rupert show certain similarities, closer in their characteristics to an origin in Bavaria. The statue of St Virgil suggests a time of origin after 1500. The other sculptures of the Late Gothic period on show on the whole depict the figure of Mary with Child. They were early purchases of the Museum, obtained individually from private ownership.
The sculptural material of the 17th and 18th century in the display is most numerous in artefacts that almost all derive from inland Croatia, collected to the greatest extent by gifts and purchases from parish priests. This is mainly concerned with the Baroque sculptural monumental heritage that are the time of the renovation of churches and their interiors in the spirit of neo-Gothic were removed as inappropriate, like the high altar from the former Franciscan church in Remetinec near Novi Marof and parts of the altars from the aisles of Zagreb Cathedral. Both altars, the Remetinec framework of the retable with sculptures and parts of the cathedral altars, represent sculptural work of the 17th century. In the first case we are dealing with an anonymous domestic master of rather modest technical abilities, while the second presents works by Ivan Komersteiner, one of the most considerable sculptors of the period.
Sculpting of the 18th century in the north west part of inland Croatia in the display is presented by works of sculptors known by name, which is something of a rarity. The Zagreb circle of craftsmen at work in Gradec is represented by Antun Reiner and Josip Stallmayer. The statue of a saintly noblewoman from the parish church in Pešćenica in Turopolje is the work of the sculptor Antun Reiner, to whom the side altars in St Francis Xavier’s in Zagreb are ascribed.
The work of Josip Stallmayer, author, among other things, of the altar in the Stone Gate in Zagreb is presented here by statues of Sainted Popes, that also come from the church in Pešćenica.
At that time the sculptural workshop of Bishop Juraj Branjug was at work on Kaptol; unfortunately, most of the sculptors’ names are unknown, but it is possible to pick out a few sculptural hands to which individual works can be ascribed. In 1747 one of them made the high altar of St Ladislav in Ladislav, today Podgorje Bistričko; the permanent display features from this altar the statues of St Ladislav and King St Stephen.
The statues of St Dominic and St Catherine of Siena have stylistic and typological features characteristic of the sculpture of the third and fourth decades of the 18th century in Varaždin, after Zagreb the next most important centre of sculpting activity in north west Croatia in this time.
Provincial local sculptural workshops are well presented by statues from the high altar of Drnje done in 1739, the work of the domestic craftsman Stjepan Severin who had a workshop in Križevci. The works created in the circle of the monastic workshops – the statue of St Paul the Hermit and St Anthony the Abbot from the former Pauline church in Veternica are the work of an anonymous Pauline sculptor.
As for the productions of foreign masters at work in inland Croatia, statues of St Joachim and St Anne of Ferdinand Gall from Celje and the angels in adoration by Vid Königer from grAz can be seen.
The statues of the apostles, St John the Evangelist, and two statues of standing angels were originally of high artistic quality. The authentic hand work on the sculptures was damaged when the original polychrome and gilding was taken off and they were given a coat of stain at the time they were part of the inventory of a private collection.
Two works exhibited in the display do not belong to the baroque corpus of inland Croatia. The former high altar of the Church of St Stephen Protomartyr in Drvenik of the second quarter of the 17th century belongs to the circle of Istrian-Kvarner altars done under the influence of the regions in the hinterland of Venice. the features of the statue of Christ the King which was purchased for the Museum with the group of Late Gothic statues from the parish church in Vrbovec relate it to the mannerist circle of the sculpting school of Weilheim.