Beate Böckem, Ruth Hansmann, Matthias Müller, Klaus Weschenfelder (Hg.)
Apelles am Fürstenhof
Facetten der Hofkunst um 1500 im Alten Reich
Apelles am Fürstenhof is the catalogue for an
exhibition that took place at the Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg
in 2010. The exhibition focused on court art and princely representation in the
Holy Roman Empire in the decades around 1500 and on the connections between court production and artistic
identity. The book includes ten scholarly essays on topics related to this larger subject area. They address larger
themes relevant to German court art and provide analysis of specific artists,
courts, and subject matter. The essays are followed by a comprehensive
catalogue of works, organized thematically into eight groups. Detailed entries are included for each work.
The book opens with two essays that explicitly treat the Apelles theme of the book’s title. Together they provide a comprehensive assessment of the development and significance of the Apelles legend in German Renaissance art and humanist culture, particularly as a device for claims of artistic status. Ulrich Pfisterer’s contribution focuses on the revival and use of the Apelles legend in the North ca. 1470–1510. He explores the larger ramifications of the figure of Apelles for the burgeoning self-awareness of artists, particularly as seen in the »moment of self-portraiture.« This provides impetus for a reconsideration of Dürers famous 1500 self-portrait and artist portrait medallions, notably by Hans Burgkmair. Beate Böckem’s essay explores contemporary citations of Jacopo de’ Barbari as Apelles in the context of his work for court patrons and examines the claims expressed in his Munich Still Life by both artist and patron through its implicit parallel to Apelles’s famed naturalism.
Several other essays in the collection also treat broad themes. Thomas Schauerte addresses the increased stress on German national identity among humanists during the time of Maximilian I and explores its intersections (and complications) with art, notably in printed works and artistic self-presentation during this period, particularly as seen in Dürer. Gabriele Wimböck examines religious art and »courtly sacral culture,« focusing on the courts of Munich and Wittenberg around 1500, the role of court artists in these works, and the intended function of such commissions. She finds a close connection between religious commissions, princely representation, and political claims at both courts. Juliane von Firck explores the social standing of court artists before Maximilian I, focusing particularly on the Burgundian court and work at specific locations such as Hesdin and Champmol. The essay examines the meaning of terms such as valet de chambre at the Burgundian court and Hofmaler within the Holy Roman Empire, the residence patterns of court artists, and the variety of tasks demanded of them.
The remaining essays are more narrowly focused studies of the work of individual artists in a court context or specific courts. Particular focus is placed on the Saxon court. Ruth Hansmann focuses on Cranach’s early work as the Saxon court artist, exploring his range of media and themes. Cranach is shown to have developed a distinctive court style through the repeated combination of specific image elements in sacred and secular images as well as a Saxon portrait type. Matthias Müller discusses Cranachs court portraiture and its striking lack of naturalism despite a visual culture that professed to value likeness in portraiture. Citing contemporary praise of Cranach as highly mimetic, Müller questions contemporary understandings of naturalism in court portraiture. The contrast between Cranach’s highly stylized facial types in both court portraits and sacred works and far more realistic depictions of costume is seen to create a distinctive princely style. Jeffrey Chipps Smiths essay provides an analysis of the polemical Cardinal-Fool medal by Hans Reinhart the Elder, setting his medal production into the larger context of Saxon politics and Reformation-era polemical imagery.
The remaining two essays expand the focus beyond Germany. Dagmar Eichberger sees Margaret of Austria’s court as a key point of cultural and artistic exchange between the Holy Roman Empire and the Southern Netherlands, and notes Margarets importance as a patron. The essay surveys the range and types of works Margaret commissioned from her various court artists, notes her interest in collecting and heightened artistic awareness, and cites the influence of the humanist Jean Lemaire de Beiges. Ariane Mensengers discussion of Jan Gossaert sees his work for Philip of Burgundy as decisive in his development as an artist, particularly in his turn to the antique. Gossaerts mythological works are seen in light of Netherlandish humanism, and the essay points to a fundamental ambivalence between classical sensory pleasure and moralizing tendencies at the same time that their erotic qualities appealed to the tastes of his patron. The essay also includes a discussion of humanist praise of Gossaert and Gossaerts own artistic self-fashioning in light of antique models.
The essays cohere as a group and provide a concise snapshot of the range of court activity in this period. The thematic approach taken by the catalogue allows for a comparative approach across courts. An interesting secondary theme that develops out of the collection is the range of writings about art and artists in the North and the development of art theory and artistic awareness in humanist writings about court artists and among court patrons. Although catalogue essays are typically fairly restricted in length, it nevertheless would have been nice to see some of the topics treated in greater depth, given their richness and the relative brevity of the essays. As the exhibit was connected to two research groups at the University of Mainz, one hopes that further, more extensive publications will be forthcoming. There was also a surprising absence of any explicit treatment of Maximilian I’s patronage in the essays, although his works were represented in the exhibition.
Apelles am Fürstenhof clearly will be of interest to those with specialist interests in the various courts represented. Given the subject and breadth of coverage provided, it will also appeal broadly to scholars of the Northern Renaissance and to those interested in the larger subject of Renaissance court production. The book also functions as a reminder for the need for continued, if not increased consideration of the role of court production and patronage in the development of art and artistic identity in the German Renaissance.
Heather Madar, in: The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. XLIII, No. 3 (2012)
Der Name eines der berühmtesten Maler der Antike schmückt den
Katalog- und Aufsatzband zu einer kleinen, aber feinen Ausstellung zu Hofkünstlern
und deren Mäzenen in der Zeit der Renaissance… Jener
Namensgeber, Apelles, war der legendäre Hofmaler Alexander des Großen… Das Wissen um den Rang dieses antiken Hofmalermeisters
drang, zusammen mit dem anspruchsvolleren Selbstbild der italienischen
Künstler, in der Zeit um 1500 in den nordalpinen Raum vor…
Die Rezeption und Wirkung dieses neuen Anspruchs der Renaissancekünstler wird in zehn Aufsätzen, die sich aus verschiedenen Perspektiven der Thematik nähern, nachgegangen. Ein anhängender, in acht Teile gegliederter Katalog vollzieht zuerst das breite Tätigkeitsspektrum der Künstler am Hof nach: »Porträts«, »Memoria und Frömmigkeit«, »Höfisches Leben«, »Höfische Jagd« sowie das »Turnier«. Hierbei fällt angenehm der breite und nicht zu stark auf geistliche Kunst eingeschränkte Blick auf. Es folgen drei Katalogteile, die sich aus dem neuen Selbstbild der Künstler ergeben. Der künstlerische Austausch, die mythologischen Geschichtsbilder am Hof, und zu guter Letzt der direkte Wettstreit mit den antiken Vorbildern und den zeitgenössischen Kollegen werden thematisiert…
Trotz der umfassenden älteren und aktuellen Forschung zu den Genannten gelingt dem Band hier durch einen Blickwechsel etwas Neues. Es wird die enge Verbindung zwischen humanistischer Antikenrezeption und dem nach außen getragenen Selbstverständnis der Künstler detailliert belegt. Damit wird zugleich die humanistische Bewegung, die sonst in Kunst-, Architektur- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte etc. aufgespalten wird, wieder als ein Ganzes verstanden.
Nicht immer gelingt dem Band eine stringente Eingliederung der Aufsätze in dieses Konzept. So ist im Gegensatz zu Hans Burgkmair der Medailleur Hans Reinhart kaum als begünstigter Hofkünstler zu bezeichnen. Solche Abweichungen von der großen Linie können aber auch von Vorteil sein. So kommen in den Aufsätzen kritische Stimmen zu Wort, die helfen, das Konzept des Apellesgleichen Hofkünstlers einzuordnen. Es wird z.B. darauf hingewiesen, dass sich das Aufgabenfeld der Künstler am Hof und deren Tätigkeit für das städtische Milieu vor und nach 1500 kaum unterschieden. Lediglich Rang und Anspruch einiger(!) der bedeutendsten Künstler wurden gesteigert. Auch auf das Scheitern von Teilen des humanistischen Ideals wird am Beispiel eingegangen. Als gelungen ist auch das Aufgreifen der naheliegenden Kritik an humanistischen Lobgesängen über »Realitätsnähe« und »Lebendigkeit« von Gemälden zu bezeichnen.
Hierbei scheint es jedoch zu kurz gegriffen, die im Gegensatz zur Kleidung offensichtlich nach einem Grundschema angefertigten, oft wenig variablen Gesichtszüge nur mit dem anderen Geschmack der Zeit zu begründen. Trotz des treffenden Beispiels eines zu realitätsnahen Porträts Dürers von Kaiser Maximilian sollte man hier die Porträtsituation, die einen stundenlang still sitzenden Porträtierten erforderte, stärker einbeziehen. Einige kleinere Fehler haben sich in die Beschreibung der Abbildungen eingeschlichen: So dient ein Biber neben einer nackten Quellnymphe nicht nur der Einbettung der mythischen Figur in die höfische Jagdwelt, sondern ist zugleich eine – in diesem Aktbild nur milde wirkende – Mahnung zur Enthaltsamkeit. Mit den »meißnischen Schwertern« in Wappendarstellungen sind natürlich sächsische Kurschwerter gemeint, wie andernorts korrekt angegeben wird.
Solche Kritikpunkte können aber nicht den Blick auf die Leistung dieses Katalog- und Ausstellungsbandes verstellen, die in einer durchaus innovativen Sicht auf die Beziehung zwischen den Hofkünstlern der Renaissance, ihren Mäzenen und dem Humanismus liegt.
Thomas Lang, in: Neues Archiv für sächsische Geschichte 83 (2012)
Dominated by the figure of Albrecht Dürer in his hometown of Nuremberg, German art of the
sixteenth century is often discussed through its urban centers.
Recently, however, the return to scholarly prominence of Lucas Cranach at the
Saxon court (esp. in the 2009 Berlin exhibition, cited, Cranach und die Kunst der Renaissance unter den Hohenzollern, reviewed in this journal
November 2010) has helped to redress this emphasis and has sparked needed
attention to court artists in the language region. In addition, this thoughtful
exhibition and its informative catalogue essays consider such court culture
more broadly across northern Europe – they take note of strong Habsburg
linkages that connect the principal German rulers and their own capitals to Netherlandish courts (see especially essays by Dagmar Eichberger on Margaret of Austria and by Ariane Mensger on Jan Gossart, whose concurrent New York-London exhibition
prevented cross-references). Moreover, the Venetian artist Jacopo de’ Barbari freely ranged among all of these courts, as the
much-needed essay by Beate Böckem
reminds us. One crucial shaping element is missing here, however: the court in
Buda of Matthias Corvinus (d. 1490), complete with
important Italian artists and humanists (cf. Péter Farbaky, Enikö Spekner, Katalin Szende, András Végh, eds., Matthias Corvinus,
the King. Tradition and Renewal in the Hungarian Royal Court,
cat, Budapest, 2008).
The name in the title refers, of course, to the learned conceit of Apelles, court painter to Alexander the Great, a complimentary comparison bestowed on many of the artists featured at Coburg. The introductory essay by Ulrich Pfisterer addresses the learned discourse on the artist in the North, which began around 1500 in the circles of Dürer and poet laureate Conrad Celtis. The essay also measures both Dürer and Hans Burgkmair against the model of Apelles in their respective roles as court artists. In addition, their designation as a »second Apelles« reinforced confident self-assertion by German artists and sometimes inspired self-portraiture, especially Dürer’s renowned image in 1500.
As Pfisterer notes, Apelles (with Zeuxis) even appeared in the lunettes of the Italian Salon of the Residenz of the Bavarian dukes at Landshut (c. 1542/43; cf. Brigitte Langer and Katharina Heinemann, »Ewig blühe Bayerns Land«. Herzog Ludwig X und die Renaissance, exh. cat. Landshut, 2009, pp. 120ff.). Böckem’s Barbari essay also establishes how much the model of Apelles helped to shape that artist’s appeal (cf. his letter of 1500/01; cat. no. 2.3.06) to his several princely patrons: Emperor Maximilian, Archduke Frederick the Wise, and (in Eichberger’s complementary essay) Margaret of Austria. Thomas Schauerte, building on his own wonderful earlier exhibition, Albrecht Dürer. Das grosse Glück (Osnabrück, 2002), reinforces the role played in the humanist circles of both Maximilian and Dürer by Conrad Celtis, imperial poet laureate, in promoting a new nationalism at the outset of the new century. Schauerte also notes – as previous neglect of this topic shows through its very silence – how narrow were those circles and how separate from the dominant mass of contemporary religious art in Germany.
Another major learned tribute to patrons, scholars, and artists alike in the period was the portrait (often a profile) medal, particularly in the oeuvre of Hans Schwarz in Augsburg but also the Vischer workshop in Nuremberg, complemented in woodcuts by Hans Burgkmair (e.g. of Celtis) in Augsburg. Artists, too, were sometimes honored: Schwarz fashioned a medal of Burgkmair in 1518; Dürer also received a profile woodcut tribute by Erhard Schön (ca. 1528; woodblock, Princeton Art Museum). Additionally, Jeffrey Chipps Smith’s essay publishes later (c. 1535-44) court medals in Saxony by Hans Reinhart, which show imagery to promote the Lutheran faith of that court.
The real center of this exhibition remains Cranach, whose tasks and honors are discussed by Ruth Hansmann, and whose religious art, along with the Munich Wittelsbachs, informs the essay by Gabriele Wimböck. Cranach’s portraits, a surprisingly neglected topic, often cemented princely alliances; Matthias Müller focuses on their tension between likenesses and stylized costume pieces. Portraits also form the first main segment of the catalogue of works on display.
Much of the remainder of the imagery of the exhibition concentrates on court life and activities, such as hunts and tournaments. Promotion of learning, including history and genealogy, and references to classical topics also prompted several display topics. This more general approach to courtly assignments, tied to the status of the court artist, is discussed in the final essay by Juliane von Fircks, who traces the status, titles, and roles of artists at varying courts, reaching back to Bohemia of Charles IV in the fourteenth century and the dukes of Burgundy across the fifteenth century.
Epitomizing all these converging concerns of portraits, courtly actions, and symbols of these court roles, the final image in the exhibition, Hans Daucher’s 1522 Berlin relief (no. 2.3.11) shows two main profile portraits within a staged allegory. Within his camp, the late (d. 1519) Emperor Maximilian, dressed in robes and wearing the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, witnesses a jousting victory of a militant Albrecht Dürer, as the artist vanquishes the male personification of Envy. While unlike Apelles, Dürer did not have exclusive rights to portray his sovereign, he did memorably take a 1518 chalk portrait drawing, which served as the basis of both paintings and a memorial woodcut of the emperor (colored; no. 1.1.07). Along with Frederick the Wise (also the subject of Dürer portraits in paint and engraving, besides those by Cranach) and their respective political networks, Maximilian stands at the center of these displayed images.
Taken together, this catalogue offers many synoptic visions and insights, though some essays are tantalizingly brief and not fully coordinated in their potential dialogues. They also vary widely in their ambitions and in their documentation – from the focused study by Chipps Smith to the broad historical sketch of von Fircks. The bibliography has already proved useful to this reader; however, as a few of the citations added above reveal, some notable recent scholarly omissions (including Anglophone studies) could have enhanced the already great value of this wide-ranging, ambitious contribution.
Larry Silver, in: Historians of the Netherlandish Art, University of Pennsylvania