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The Age of Dürer
German Drawings and Prints from the Museum of Fine Arts
The prestigious collection of drawings by artists outside Hungary at the Museum of Fine Arts, comprising some 9,000 sheets in total, includes a rich variety of early German works. This exhibition features almost fifty of the finest drawings, produced in German-speaking lands over a period of 200 years, from the world of International Gothic, through the Renaissance, until the time of Mannerism. These compositions were supplemented with engravings and woodcuts created by the virtuoso graphic artist of the German Renaissance, Albrecht Dürer.
The core of the Collection of Prints and Drawings came from the Esterházy collection, consisting of 3,500 drawings and tens of thousands of prints, which was purchased by the Hungarian state in 1870. Of crucial importance to the German drawings, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy bought a collection of sixteenth-century drawings in Nuremberg around 1804, which had previously belonged to Paulus Praun, a local merchant. The majority of sheets shown in this exhibition were once part of the Esterházy collection, and many of those were formerly owned by Praun. The collection of German drawings was enriched in 1901 when the painter and restorer István Delhaes bequeathed his own collection to the Hungarian state. The museum also made some important acquisitions of its own on the art market.
When determining the units in our exhibition, we not only relied on chronological and thematic criteria, but also paid attention to the techniques and functions of the drawings. In addition, the works of two particularly important groups of artists have been treated as separate entities: the drawings and prints of Albrecht Dürer and drawings of his circle, from the first decades of the sixteenth century; and the compositions of the German “Rudolphine” artists who were active around the year 1600 in the Prague court of Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor. A substantial number of the selected drawings could have been placed in more than one of the units; among the works from Dürer and his age, for example, there are three stained glass designs, which could just as easily have been presented with the preparatory drawings.
The last time the Museum of Fine Arts exhibited the German drawings in its collection was over half a century ago. The present show coincides with the completion of the scientific catalogue of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century German drawings, containing the results of the latest research on the works in the collection.
- The Early Days: Fifteenth-Century Compositions
- Bohemian artist: Saint Margaret, c. 1410-1415
- Albrecht Dürer and his Circle
- Albrecht Dürer: Various Sketches, c. 1515
- Albrecht Dürer: Rider with Lance, 1502
- Hans Schäufelein after Albrecht Dürer: Saint Anne with the Virgin and Child, c. 1505-1509
- Hans Baldung Grien: Christ with the Instruments of the Passion, c. 1504
- Albrecht Dürer: Adam and Eve,1504
- Albrecht Dürer: Melencolia I, 1514
- Chiaroscuro Drawings
- Lucas Cranach the Elder: Saint George, c. 1506
- Albrecht Altdorfer: Saint Barbara, 1517
- After Albrecht Altdorfer: The Mouth of Truth, 1513
- Augsburg artist: Thetis Rescuing Achilles to the Island of Skyros, 1518
- The Beginnings of the Landscape Genre and Imaginary Landscapes
- Albrecht Altdorfer: View of Sarmingstein, 1511
- Wolfgang Huber: Landscape with Willows and a Water-Mill, 1514
- Preparatory Drawings
- Jörg Breu the Elder: The Story of Lucretia , c. 1528
- Augustin Hirsvogel: Squirrel Hunt with Crossbows, c. 1530-1536
- Veit Stoss: Saint Anne with the Virgin and Child, c. 1512
- Art in the Prague Court of Emperor Rudolph II
- Hans Hoffmann after Albrecht Dürer: Studies of Hands, c. 1580
- Joseph Heintz the Elder: Allegory, c. 1600
- Matthias Gundelach: Mercury and Herse, 1613
The Early Days: Fifteenth-Century Compositions
The museum’s collection has only a few German drawings made before the year 1500, but they are very special indeed. The earliest sheet dates from around 1410–1415, and is a depiction of Saint Margaret, produced in the graceful, decorative style of International Gothic. It was probably executed as a model sheet or a study for a sculpture. It was previously regarded as a work by an artist of Cologne or Vienna, but it is more likely to have been made in Prague, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time.
The Virgin and Child with Saint Paul is a composition with an unusual iconography, whose varied structure of lines, evoking sculptural forms, indicates that it was probably a preliminary drawing for an engraving.
The Virgin and Child with Saint Paul, c. 1440–50
Bohemian artist: Saint Margaret, c. 1410-1415
Drawn in the stylized, decorative manner of the international Gothic that prevailed throughout Europe around 1400, the drawing represents Saint Margaret, who suffered martyrdom in 303 AD, in Antioch. Her attributes: the cross, the dragon and the crown refer to her legend, which became well known as an episode in the Legenda Aurea. This volume containing the lives of saints was compiled by Jacobus de Voragine in the thirteenth century and survived in several manuscripts. Of royal origin, Margaret was tortured and imprisoned for her Christian faith. With the help of the cross, she drove away Satan, who appeared in her dungeon in the form of a dragon. Since she adhered to her faith and refused to sacrifice for the pagan gods, she was beheaded, and thus received the crown of martyrdom.
Albrecht Dürer and his Circle
Born in Nuremberg, Albrecht Dürer, the great innovator of German Renaissance art, visited Venice in his twenties, where he studied the crucial art theoretical questions of the Italian Renaissance: how to convey ideal human proportions, how to depict nature as faithfully as possible, and the problems of perspective and anatomy. After his return home to Nuremberg, his workshop attracted numerous talented young artists, whose style of drawing was greatly influenced by the virtuoso master’s works. The Museum of Fine Arts has two autograph drawings by Dürer, although several other pieces were once also attributed to him, such as the pen-and-ink drawing by Hans Schäufelein and the sheet entitled Rider with Lance. Nearly 250 prints by Dürer are preserved in the collection as well, of which nine can be seen in the exhibition, including the three master engravings: Knight, Death and Devil, Melencolia I, and Saint Jerome in His Study. Hans Baldung Grien, who is represented here with one composition, worked together with Hans Schäufelein in Dürer’s workshop from 1503 onwards, producing stained glass designs and woodcut book illustrations.
Albrecht Dürer: Knight, Death and Devil, 1513
Albrecht Dürer: Various Sketches, c. 1515
The four different drawings of slightly different scales are seemingly unrelated, however, a wind instrument appears in all four of them and the figure of a jester in two of them. Based on its draftsmanship and motifs, the design is related to Dürer’s illustrations for Willibald Pirckheimer’s Latin translation of the Hieroglyphica, a Greek manuscript by Horapollo Niliacus, an Alexandrian of the fourth or fifth centuries AD. The work claimed to explain the hidden meaning of the sacred symbols of ancient Egypt. The present composition can also be linked to Dürer’s marginal drawings for the Book of Hours owned by Emperor Maximilian I. Dürer worked on the illustrations of both works around 1512–1515.
Albrecht Dürer: Rider with Lance, 1502
Throughout his life, Dürer was preoccupied with the question of human proportions, just as he thoroughly studied the structure and movement of horses. He was also deeply interested in the possibilities of their most realistic representation. Through his drawings and engravings of horses and riders, the phases of his progress can be followed to increasingly realistic and perfect solutions. This drawing of a mounted horseman, long believed to be by Dürer’s own hand, was made in his immediate circle under the influence of his depictions of horses.
Hans Schäufelein after Albrecht Dürer: Saint Anne with the Virgin and Child, c. 1505-1509
The iconographic type of Saint Anne with the Virgin and the Infant Jesus developed in the thirteenth century and is linked with the cult of Saint Anne, which had flourished since the Middle Ages, reaching its peak around 1500. This design for a stained glass window, drawn around 1505–1509, belongs to the more archaic one of the two main types. The standing figure of Saint Anne holds the infant Jesus and is of monumental size compared to the Virgin who stands next to her. Based on this design, a stained glass window with minor changes was executed for the church of Saint Gumbert in Ansbach, near Nuremberg, around 1520. Hans Schäufelein worked in Dürer’s workshop and developed a penmanship close to his master.
Hans Baldung Grien: Christ with the Instruments of the Passion, c. 1504
Baldung entered Dürer’s workshop in Nuremberg presumably in 1503 and worked primarily on designs for stained glass windows. This drawing, too, might have been such a design dating from around 1504. The work was probably commissioned by the Scheurl family in Nuremberg because the donor on the left is the famous jurist, diplomat and humanist Christoph Scheurl. Depictions of Christ with the instrument of the passion: the cross, the lance, the sponge on a reed, the scourge, the bundle of twigs, and the crown of thorns served to invite believers to contemplate Christ’s passion with religious devotion.
Albrecht Dürer: Adam and Eve,1504
Dürer’s researches into proportion arrived at full perfection with this print, embodying the ideal of the female and male figures. The artist made five proofs at different phases of the composition, and he drew the highest number of preparatory studies for this engraving. The world of Eden is evoked by the animals surrounding the figures, which, at the same time, also symbolize the four temperaments: the elk is set as the melancholic, the hare as the sanguine, the cat as the choleric, and the ox as the phlegmatic temperament. According to the theory of the four humours, originating in classical antiquity and still flourishing in the Renaissance, everyone is ranked into one of the basic temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic. Classification is determined by the dominance of the four respective body fluids: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. The figures of Adam and Eve and the theory of the four humours were first connected by Hildegard von Bingen, a Benedictine abbess in the twelfth century. According to her theory, the dominant humours had influenced the temperament and character of human beings as a consequence of the Fall of Man.
Albrecht Dürer: Melencolia I, 1514
Because of the depicted enigmatic objects alluding to geometry, astrology and architecture, as well as due to its complex system of symbols, this famous engraving led scholars to contrive many diverse interpretations. The title refers to the theory of the four humours. In the Middle Ages, the melancholic temperament was regarded the least favourable, partly for the predominance of black bile and partly for the detrimental influence of the planet Saturn. Following Aristotle, the Neoplatonists of Florence reinterpreted this temperament and emphasised its positive features. In accordance with Aristotle, they thought that such people of eminence as philosophers, poets, and visual artists were essentially melancholic, and considered the temperament a dangerous but privileged trait of the artist. Dürer’s engraving follows this idea in interpreting Melancholy as the distinguishing trait of the artist endowed with genius.
Among the early South German drawings, works made using the so-called chiaroscuro (light-and-shade, light-and-dark) technique constitute a special group. They were made on dark-coloured prepared paper using black contour lines, with the three-dimensional forms heightened in white or sometimes in a different bright colour. The decorative effect of these drawings generated widespread interest among collectors. Their themes were sometimes religious, sometimes profane: besides sheets by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Albrecht Altdorfer, each depicting a saint, the exhibition also presents a rarely portrayed story from Greek mythology was brought to life by an artist of Augsburg: hidden in a sack and carried on the back of dolphins, the infant Achilles was taken by his mother to safety on the island of Skyros. A stained glass design by Tobias Stimmer’s Justitia on brownish red prepared paper with a decorative effect is also included in the exhibition.
Lucas Cranach the Elder: Saint George, c. 1506
The drawing depicts Saint George, who, at the end of the third century, served as a soldier in Cappadocia and who was then beheaded for his Christian faith in 303. The saint, who according to a legend had even defeated a dragon, stands in an elegant posture, with the corpse of the dragon hung over his arm. The work served as a model for a woodcut by Cranach on the same theme, dated 1506. The portrayal of Saint George in knightly armour was rendered particularly pertinent by the growing cult surrounding the dragon-slayer. In 1469, in response to the increasing threat posed by the Ottoman armies, Frederick III, Holy Roman emperor, had revitalized the Order of the Knights of Saint George, which was charged with defending Christendom. Several decades later, his son, Maximilian I, founded the Fraternity of Saint George and then, in 1503, the Society of Saint George, thereby enhancing the veneration of the saint.
Albrecht Altdorfer: Saint Barbara, 1517
Altdorfer made many of his drawings, like this Saint Barbara on dark prepared paper with pen in black ink, heightened with white creating powerful chiaroscuro effects. The female saint shown here lived in the third century. In order to discourage her suitors, she was shut in a tower by her father Dioscurus of Heliopolis. When she turned to Christianity, Dioscurus made all efforts to persuade his daughter to leave her new faith. After refusing to obey this order, Barbara was decapitated. Altdorfer depicted her stepping forward with one of her attributes in her hand, the chalice, surmounted by a wafer of the host because she was commonly invoked against sudden death by storm or lightening and thus against the danger of dying without the benefit of the last sacrament.
After Albrecht Altdorfer: The Mouth of Truth, 1513
This copy after Altdorfer’s drawing in Berlin was probably produced in the artist’s workshop. The subject matter is a popular medieval fable, according to which an adulterous woman disguised her lover as a fool to avoid punishment, who then proceeded to kiss and embrace her. Upon entering her hand into the mouth of the statue of a lion, which was considered a lie detector, she claimed that other than her husband and the fool, she had never been intimate with any other men.
Augsburg artist: Thetis Rescuing Achilles to the Island of Skyros, 1518
According to an episode of the thirteenth-century book Historia Trojana by Guido da Columna, the goddess Thetis brings her young son, Achilles, the later great Greek hero of the Trojan War, to safety on the island of Skyros. Thetis hopes to protect Achilles from the death prophesied for him. On the island, she disguises the young man as a girl and hides him at the court of Lycomedes, king of Skyros. The drawing represents Thetis and her maid standing on the back of dolphins, who also carry the young boy hidden in a sack.
The Beginnings of the Landscape Genre and Imaginary Landscapes
Painters of the so-called “Danube school” worked in the regions along the great river between Regensburg and Vienna in the early sixteenth century. Among their diversely themed paintings and drawings there are numerous “landscape portraits”, which were produced after direct observation and are in part topographically accurate. The most noteworthy exponents of the group were Albrecht Altdorfer of Regensburg, and Wolfgang Huber, court painter to the Archbishop of Passau. Their landscape drawings, together with Dürer’s travel drawings, played a key role in the development of the landscape as an independent genre. Altdorfer’s pen-and-ink View of Sarmingstein, dated 1511, is among the earliest known landscape portraits with a verifiable geographic location. Wolfgang Huber’s studies of willow trees, made in 1514, once featured in a sketchbook; the other compositions of which only survive as copies. Contrasting with the expressive structure of lines in his willow trees, in Huber’s view of Urfahr, he generated an airy sense of space partly through the use of delicate, dotted lines to mark out the contours of the distant mountains, and partly by giving us a daringly wide view of the scene.
View of Urfahr, c. 1510
Albrecht Altdorfer: View of Sarmingstein, 1511
This view of a river running among high mountains represents Sarmingstein on the Danube, which lies in Austria, between Linz and Melk. The drawing, together with a few works by Albrecht Dürer and Wolfgang Huber, has been regarded as a milestone in art history, not only because it is an early independent landscape, but also because it can be identified as an existing geographical location. Such landscape portraits are rare at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The scene is viewed from an imaginary vantage point above the Danube, which suggests that the drawing was made not on location, but from memory.
Wolfgang Huber: Landscape with Willows and a Water-Mill, 1514
This drawing depicting bare willow trees on the banks of a stream, together with some further landscape studies, some of which only survive as copies, probably once belonged to a sketchbook in which Wolfgang Huber drew when he was travelling in the Lower Alps in 1514. Huber, the court painter to the archbishop of Passau, was one of the great innovative artists of the “Danube school”. His landscape portraits based on direct observation of nature, together with Altdorfer’s works, mark the beginning of a new era in European landscape art.
From a perspective of five centuries, it is not always possible to know for certain what the intention of an artist was when making any particular drawing. In many cases, however, the function is clear, particularly when it comes to preparatory drawings, which were produced as sketches for paintings (altarpieces, frescos, portraits, history scenes), stained glass windows, statues and reliefs, goldsmithery and engravings. For most of the compositions shown here, the finished work is also known, while for the others, the function can be deduced from similar works or from a knowledge of the artist’s oeuvre. The painting produced after the drawing by Jörg Breu the Elder, for example, can be seen in Munich, while Johann Matthias Kager’s altarpiece adorns a church in Dillingen. The hunting-themed stained-glass designs of Augustin Hirsvogel belong to a fifty-three-part series, and the windows based on the drawings seen here are now in German collections. Rare sketches by Veit Stoss show the stages of designing a sculpture, although no related statue is known.
Johann Matthias Kager:
Group of Saints, c. 1629
Jörg Breu the Elder: The Story of Lucretia , c. 1528
This is a preparatory drawing by Jörg Breu for his painting now in Munich, dated 1528. The picture was commissioned by William IV, the Wittelsbach duke of Bavaria, and his wife Jacobäa for the Munich Residence. It belonged to a cycle of probably sixteen history pictures, painted by eight different artists, depicting virtuous women and men. In this drawing, the story of Lucretia (Livy, Ab urbe condita, I, 57–59) is represented in five scenes. The narrative begins in the left background with the rape of Lucretia by Sextus Tarquinius, son of the king of Rome, and continues in the foreground with Lucretia’s suicide in the presence of her husband, father and two male friends, and with the same group of men swearing vengeance by the lifeless body of Lucretia. The subsequent episodes of Lucretia’s story, namely her funeral and Brutus’s speech against the tyrannical king and his sons, which according to Livy led to a rebellion and ultimately to the foundation of the Roman Republic, can be seen in the background.
Augustin Hirsvogel: Squirrel Hunt with Crossbows, c. 1530-1536
These two drawings by Hirsvogel belong to a series of fifty-three stained glass designs by the artist, all kept in Budapest. They feature games, the pursuit and dispatch of quarries (bears, stags, wild boars, wolves, foxes, hares, squirrels, fowls), falconry, and fishing. The drawings, regarded as the era’s most diverse hunting representations, provide an accurate portrayal of sixteenth-century venatic practices, weapons, and garments. Fifteen stained glass paintings have survived, which were carried out after the Budapest drawings. Attack on a Standing Bear seen here served as a model for two stained glass paintings: a rectangular one, to be found in Coburg, and a roundel, presently in a German private collection. A roundel executed after the Squirrel Hunt is today in Erbach Castle, Germany.
Veit Stoss: Saint Anne with the Virgin and Child, c. 1512
These sketches for a sculptural decoration for an altarpiece show the same composition in a different state of development. They were originally drawn on the same piece of paper. The versos of the sheets belong together, and they bear an autograph draft of a letter by Veit Stoss, in which he petitions the Council of Nuremberg to call someone as a witness to testify in the artist’s lawsuit. There is no sculpture known with the same composition. The drawings are especially precious items in the Budapest collection, as only five drawings by Veit Stoss are known.
Art in the Prague Court of Emperor Rudolph II
Rudolf II ruled as King of Hungary from 1572, and as Holy Roman Emperor between 1576 and 1608. He moved his imperial residence from Vienna to Prague, and the city soon became Europe’s centre of culture. The emperor invited the greatest artists and scholars of the age to his court, and he built up a rich art collection. The present exhibition features drawings by four of the German artists who served for many years as imperial court painters. Hans Hoffmann began his career in Nuremberg, and from 1585 until his death, he worked in the Prague court as a painter and art agent: through his mediation, the emperor acquired a number of original works by Dürer. Hoffmann was still living in Nuremberg at the time he made the works shown here: two copies after Dürer and some of his depictions of flora and fauna. Joseph Heintz the Elder painted in the Prague court from the early 1590s until his death, and travelled throughout Europe on behalf of the emperor, seeking works of art for his collection. His Allegory and his drawing of a female nude give us a clear sense of Rudolph II’s interest in unusual themes and erotic works. Hans von Aachen was appointed court painter by the emperor in 1592, but he did not move to Prague until 1596, where he painted portraits as well as pictures on allegorical and mythological themes. The full-length portrait of the emperor, shown here, can be directly connected with one of his paintings. Matthias Gundelach served as official court painter from 1592 onwards. His drawing illustrates an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Hans von Aachen (?):
Emperor Rudolph II in Armor, c. 1602
Hans Hoffmann after Albrecht Dürer: Studies of Hands, c. 1580
The model for the praying hands on the left was Dürer’s famous study for the mid-section of his painting titled Heller Altarpiece, which was destroyed by fire in 1729. Dürer’s drawing is now held at the Albertina, Vienna. On Hoffmann’s sheet, the pair of hands on the right is a copy of a lost drawing by Dürer, which he made in preparation for the hand of the pope in the picture titled Feast of the Rose Garlands, a work that Dürer painted in Venice in 1506 and is now preserved in Prague. Hoffmann’s drawing, in which the shade of the blue ground differs considerably from that of Dürer’s original, is a good example of the manner in which the artist produced new compositions – presumably for sale or as gifts – based on Dürer’s studies. The piece, together with fifty other works by Hoffmann, came to the Museum of Fine Arts from the Praun Collection.
Joseph Heintz the Elder: Allegory, c. 1600
The subject matter of this Allegory is enigmatic. One of the figures around the seated boy at the centre is probably Venus crouching with the three Graces behind her. To the right, the young man wearing a wreath of wheat and holding ears of wheat in his hand symbolizes Summer, whereas a man wearing a wreath of vine leaves personifies Autumn. Below them, Ceres, the goddess of fertility, holding a horn of plenty signifies the season of Spring, while the male figure resting in the foreground in the pose of a river-god, who puts his hand above a bowl of embers, can be identified as Winter. The scene can probably be interpreted as an allegory of a new year or even the new – seventeenth – century. The indented outlines of the Budapest drawing suggest that the composition was used for a decorative object, a relief or perhaps a print.
Matthias Gundelach: Mercury and Herse, 1613
The drawing represents the story of Mercury and Herse. In the Metamorphoses II (708–36), Ovid tells how Mercury, flying over Attica, notices one of the three daughters of the mythical king of Athens, while the girls are bringing offerings to the Temple of Minerva. In contrast to standard iconographic designs, the daughters in Gundelach’s drawing do not carry baskets of offerings. One of the two female figures in the foreground is Herse, and the other, seen from behind, is her sister Aglaurus. She is jealously trying to prevent Mercury from approaching Herse.