© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Designed as one of a set of sculptures entitled Community of Saints, this figure’s haggard physique and upturned face and eyes depict earthly suffering and piety. The work was commissioned for a niche high on the fourteenth-century brick façade of the former church of St. Catherine in Lübeck, Germany, and its large head and smaller lower body are a result of the foreshortening that such a vantage point required. Although sixteen figures were originally planned, protests from reactionary critics and lack of funding stymied the project, and Barlach completed only three. The city of Lübeck produced Crippled Beggar twice, once for the façade and once for sale. With its purchase in 1931, the sculpture became the first original work of modern art to enter the collection of the Busch-Reisinger Museum. Its monumentality, and the inspiration that the artist took from medieval and folk art, resonates with the museum’s foundational collection of plaster casts of works from the German sculptural tradition. German expressionist artists and their apologists sought direct links to the medieval Gothic tradition, claiming this non-classical, “Northern” art as their national heritage.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Ernst Barlach, German (Wedel, Germany 1870 - 1938 Rostock, Germany)
Crippled Beggar
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Bettler auf Krücken; Der Bettler
Work Type
Creation Place: Europe, Germany
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1006, East Arcade
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Physical Descriptions
Low-fired ceramic
202.57 x 55.88 x 41.06 cm (79 3/4 x 22 x 16 3/16 in.)
base: 43 x 29 x 41.06 cm (16 15/16 x 11 7/16 x 16 3/16 in.)
State, Edition, Standard Reference Number
Standard Reference Number
Schult 355
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Partial gift of Edward M. M. Warburg and partial purchase through the Association Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Publication History

Contemporary German Art, exh. cat., Institute of Modern Art (now Institute of Contemporary Art) (Boston, MA, 1939), pp. 34-35, ill. (b/w)

Friedrich Schult, ed., Ernst Barlach. Das plastische Werk, Dr. Ernst Hauswedell & Co. (Hamburg, Germany, 1960), no. 355

Anneliese Harding, German Sculpture in New England Museums, Goethe Institute (Boston, MA, 1972), pp. 19-20, repr. p. 76 as fig. 140

Charles Werner Haxthausen, "The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard: the Germanic Tradition", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 403-413, p. 409, repr. p. 406 as fig. 1

Charles Werner Haxthausen, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, Abbeville Press (New York, NY, 1980), pp. 11, 70, repr. pp. 70-73

Kristin A. Mortimer and William G. Klingelhofer, Harvard University Art Museums: A Guide to the Collections, Harvard University Art Museums and Abbeville Press (Cambridge and New York, 1986), no. 359, p. 302, repr.

Peter Nisbet and Emilie Norris, Busch-Reisinger Museum: History and Holdings, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1991), p. 55, ill.

Peter Nisbet and Joseph Koerner, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. Peter Nisbet, Harvard University Art Museums and Scala Publishers Ltd. (Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2007), p. 79

Kathryn Brush, "Carl Georg Heise and the USA: New Perspectives on the History of Harvard's Germanic Museum and Lübeck's Museum für Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte", Marburger Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft, VDG Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften (Marburg, Germany, 2018), pp. 8-9, fig. 2, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

Contemporary German Art, Institute of Modern Art (now Institute of Contemporary Art), Boston, 11/02/1939 - 12/09/1939

32Q: 1006 East Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu