strict warning: Only variables should be passed by reference in /home/iovannet/public_html/grandearte/modules/book/book.module on line 559.


The origins of the German Schools of painting are obscure, but it is fairly certain that Cologne was the first place in which the art was soonest established to any considerable extent. Here, as in the Netherlands, we cannot find any traces of immediate Italian influences. The first painter who can be identified with any certainty is Wilhelm von Herle, called Meister Wilhelm, whose activity is not traceable earlier than about 1358. Most of the pictures formerly attributed to him have, however, been assigned to his pupil Hermann Wynrich von Wesel, who on the death of his master in 1378 married his widow and continued his practice, until his death somewhere about 1414. His most important works were six panels of the High Altar of the Cathedral, the so-called Madonna of the Pea Blossoms and twoCrucifixions at Cologne, and the S. Veronica at Munich, dated 1410.

More important was Stephen Lochner, who died at Cologne in 1451. His influence was widespread and his school apparently numerous, until, in 1450, Roger van der Weyden, returning from Italy, stopped at Cologne and painted his large triptych, which eclipsed Lochner. From this time onwards the school of Cologne is represented by painters whose names are not known, and who are accordingly distinguished by the subjects of their works; such as The Master of the Glorification of the Virgin, The Master of S. Bartholomew, etc., until we come to Bartel Bruyn (c. 1493-1553), a portrait painter who is represented at Berlin, and by a picture of Dr Fuchsius bequeathed to the National Gallery by George Salting.

In other parts of Germany, particularly in Nuremberg, Ulm, Augsburg, and Basle, various names of painters of the latter half of the fourteenth century have survived, but their works are of little interest except to the connoisseur as showing the influence under which the two great artists of the sixteenth century, Albert Dürer and Hans Holbein, and one or two lesser lights like Lucas Cranach, Albert Altdorfer, and Adam Elsheimer, were formed.

In Germany the taste for the fantastic in art peculiar to the Middle Ages, though it engendered clever and spirited works such as those of Quentin Massys and Lucas van Leyden, was still unfavourable to the cultivation of pure beauty, scenes from the Apocalypse, Dances of Death, etc., being among the favourite subjects for art. On the other hand, the pictorial treatment of antique literature, a world so suggestive of beautiful forms, was so little comprehended by the German mind that they only sought to express it through the medium of those fantastic ideas with very childish and even tasteless results. We must also remember that that average education of the various classes of society which the fine arts require for their protection stood on a very low footing in Germany. In Italy the favour with which works of art was regarded was far more widely extended. This again gave rise to a more elevated personal position on the part of the artist, which in Italy was not only one of more consideration, but of incomparably greater independence. In this latter respect Germany was so

National Gallery, London

deficient that the genius of Albert Dürer and Holbein was miserably cramped and hindered in development by the poverty and littleness of surrounding circumstances. It is known that of all the German princes no one but the Elector Frederick the Wise ever gave Albert Dürer a commission for pictures, while a writing addressed by the great painter to the magistracy of Nuremberg tells us that his native city never gave him employment even to the value of 500 florins. At the same time his pictures were so meanly paid, that for the means of subsistence, as he says himself, he was compelled to devote himself to engraving. How far more such a man as Dürer would have been appreciated in Italy or in the Netherlands is further evidenced in the above-mentioned writing, where he states that he was offered 200 ducats a year in Venice and 300 Philips-gulden in Antwerp, if he would settle in either of those cities. And Holbein fared still worse: there is no evidence whatever that any German prince ever troubled himself at all about the great painter while at Basle, and his art was so little cared for that necessity compelled him to go to England, where a genius fitted for the highest undertakings of historical painting was limited to the sphere of portraiture. The crowning impediments finally, which hindered the progress of German art, and perverted it from its true aim, were the Reformation, which narrowed the sphere of ecclesiastical works, and the pernicious imitation of the great Italian masters which ensued.

Lucas Cranach, born in 1472, received his first instructions in art from his father, his later teaching probably from Matthew Grunewald. In some instances he attained to the expression of dignity, earnestness and feeling, but generally his characteristics are a naïve and childlike cheerfulness and a gentle and almost timid grace. The impression produced by his style of representation reminds one of the "Volksbücher" and "Volkslieder." Many of his church pictures have a very peculiar significance: in these he stands forth properly speaking as the painter of the Reformation. Intimate both with Luther and Melanchthon, he seizes on the central aim of their doctrine, viz., the insufficiency of good works and the sole efficacy of faith. His mythological subjects appeal directly to the eye like real portraits; and sometimes also by means of a certain grace and naïveté of motive. We may cite as an instance the Diana seated on a stag in a small picture at Berlin, No. 564. The Fountain of Youth, also at Berlin, No. 593, is a picture of peculiar character; a large basin surrounded by steps and with a richly adorned fountain forms the centre. On one side, where the country is stony and barren, a multitude of old women are dragged forward on horses, waggons or carriages, and with much trouble are got into the water. On the other side of the fountain they appear as young maidens splashing about and amusing themselves with all kinds of playful mischief; close by is a large pavilion into which a herald courteously invites them to enter and where they are arrayed in costly apparel. A feast is prepared in a smiling meadow, which seems to be followed by a dance; the gay crowd loses itself in a neighbouring grove. The men unfortunately have not become young, and retain their grey beards. The picture is of the year 1546, the seventy-fourth of Cranach's age.

Albert Altdorfer was born 1488 at Altdorf, near Landshuth, in Bavaria, and settled at Ratisbon, where he died 1528. He invested the fantastic tendency of the time with a poetic feeling—especially in landscape—and he developed it so as to attain a perfection in this sort of romantic painting that no other artist had reached. In his later period he was strongly influenced by Italian art. Altdorfer's principal work is in the Munich Gallery, and is thus described by Schlegel:—

"It represents the Victory of Alexander the Great over Darius; the costume is that of the artist's own day, as it would be treated in the chivalrous poems of the middle ages—man and horse are sheathed in plate and mail, with surcoats of gold or embroidery; the chamfrons upon the heads of the horses, the glittering lances and stirrups, and the variety of the weapons, form altogether a scene of indescribable splendour and richness.... It is, in truth, a little world on a few square feet of canvas; the hosts of combatants who advance on all sides against each other are innumerable, and the view into the background appears interminable. In the distance is the ocean, with high rocks and a rugged island between them; ships of war appear in the offing and a whole fleet of vessels—on the left the moon is setting—on the right the sun rising—both shining through the opening clouds—a clear and striking image of the events represented. The armies are arranged in rank and column without the strange attitudes, contrasts, and distortions generally exhibited in so-called battle-pieces. How indeed would this have been possible with such a vast multitude of figures? The whole is in the plain and severe, or it may be the stiff manner of the old style. At the same time the character and execution of these little figures is most masterly and profound. And what variety, what expression there is, not merely in the character of the single warriors and knights, but in the hosts themselves! Here crowds of black archers rush down troop after troop from the mountain with the rage of a foaming torrent; on the other side high upon the rocks in the far distance a scattered crowd of flying men are turning round in a defile. The point of the greatest interest stands out brilliantly from the centre of the whole—Alexander and Darius both in armour of burnished gold; Alexander on Bucephalus with his lance in rest advances before his men and presses on the flying Darius, whose charioteer has already fallen on his white horses, and who looks back upon his conqueror with all the despair of a vanquished monarch."

Albert Dürer (1471-1528), by his overpowering genius, may be called the sole representative of German art of his period. He was gifted with a power of conception which traced nature through all her finest shades, and with a lively sense, as well for the solemn and the sublime, as for simple grace and tenderness; above all, he had an earnest and truthful feeling in art united with a capacity for the most earnest study. These qualities were sufficient to place him by the side of the greatest artists whom the world has ever seen.

One of the earliest portraits by Albert Dürer known to us is that of his father, Albert Dürer, the goldsmith, dated 1497, in our National Gallery. In the year 1644, another version of this picture, which was engraved by Hollar, was in the collection of the Earl of Arundel, and is now in that of the Duke of Northumberland, at Syon House. Of about the same time—that is to say, before 1500—are the portraits of Oswald Krell, at Munich, of Frederick the Wise, at Berlin, and of himself, at the Prado.

Several of Albert Dürer's pictures of the year 1500 are known to us. The first and most important is his own portrait in the Munich Gallery, which represents him full face with his hand laid on the fur trimming of his robe.

His finest picture of the year 1504 is an Adoration of the Kings, originally painted for Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, subsequently presented by the Elector Christian II. to the Emperor Rudolph II., and finally, on the occasion of an exchange of pictures, transferred from Vienna to Florence, where it now hangs in the Tribune of the Uffizi. The heads are of thoroughly realistic treatment; the Virgin a portrait from some model of no attractive character; the second King a portrait of the painter himself. The landscape background exactly resembles that in the well-known engraving of S. Eustace, the period of which is thus pretty nearly defined. It is carefully painted in a fine body of colour.

In 1505 Dürer made a second journey into Upper Italy, and remained a considerable time at Venice. Of his occupations in this city the letters written to his friend Wilibald Pirckheimer which have come down to us give many interesting particulars. He there executed for the German Company a picture known as The Feast of Rose Garlands, which brought him great fame, and by its brilliant colouring silenced the assertion of his envious adversaries "that he was a good engraver, but knew not how to deal with colours." In the centre of a landscape is the Virgin seated with the Child and crowned by two angels; on her right is a Pope with priests kneeling; on her left the Emperor Maximilian I. with knights; various members of the German Company are also kneeling; all are being crowned with garlands of roses by the Virgin, the Child, S. Dominick—who stands behind the Virgin—and by angels. The painter and his friend Pirckheimer are seen standing in the background on the right; the painter holds a tablet with the inscription, "Albertus Dürer Germanus, MDVI" This picture, which is one of his largest and finest, was purchased from the church at a high price by the Emperor Rudolph II. for his gallery at Prague, where it remained until sold in 1782 by the Emperor Joseph II. It then became the property of the Præmonstratensian monastery of Stratow at Prague, where it still exists, though in very injured condition and greatly over-painted. In the Imperial Gallery at Vienna may be seen an old copy which conveys a better idea of the picture than the original.

With these productions begins the zenith of this master's fame, in which a great number of works follow one another within a short period. Of these we first notice a picture of 1508, in the Imperial Gallery at Vienna, painted for Duke Frederick of Saxony, and which afterwards adorned the gallery of the Emperor Rudolph II. It represents The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand Saints. In the centre of the picture stand the master and his friend Pirckheimer as spectators, both in black dresses. Dürer has a mantle thrown over his shoulder in the Italian fashion, and stands in a firm attitude. He folds his hands and holds a small flag, on which is inscribed, "Iste faciebat anno domini 1508 Albertus Dürer Alemanus." There are a multitude of single groups exhibiting every species of martyrdom, but there is a want of general connection of the whole. The scenes in the background, where the Christians are led naked up the rocks, and are precipitated down from the top, are particularly excellent. The whole is very minute and miniature-like; the colouring is beautifully brilliant, and it is painted (the accessories particularly) with extraordinary care.

To 1511 belongs also one of his most celebrated pictures, The Adoration of the Trinity, which is also at Vienna, painted for the chapel of the Landauer Brüderhaus in Nuremberg. Above in the centre of the picture are seen the First Person, who holds the Saviour in his arms, while the Holy Spirit is seen above; some angels spread out the priestly mantle of the Almighty, whilst others hover near with the instruments of Christ's passion. On the left hand a little lower down is a choir of females with the Virgin at their head; on the right are the male saints with St John the Baptist. Below all these kneel a host of the blessed of all ranks and nations extending over the whole of this part of the picture. Underneath the whole is a beautiful landscape, and in a corner of the picture the artist himself richly clothed in a fur mantle, with a tablet next him with the words, "Albertus Dürer Noricus faciebat anno a Virginis partu, 1511." It may be assumed beyond doubt that he held in particular esteem those pictures into which he introduced his own portrait.

In the Vienna Gallery is also a picture of the year 1512, the Virgin holding the naked Child in her arms. She has a veil over her head and blue drapery. Her face is of the form usual with Albert Dürer, but of a soft and maidenly character; the Child is beautiful—the countenance particularly so. It is painted with exceeding delicacy of finish.

Two altar-pieces of his earliest period must be mentioned. One is in the Dresden Gallery, consisting of three pictures painted in tempera on canvas, representing the Virgin, S. Anthony, and S. Sebastian respectively. Although this is probably one of his very earliest works, it is remarkable for the novelty of its treatment and its independence of tradition.

The other, a little later, is in the Munich Gallery (Nos. 240-3), painted at the request of the Paumgartner family, for S. Catherine's Church at Nuremberg, was brought to Munich in 1612 by Maximilian I. The subject of the middle picture is the Nativity; the Child is in the centre, surrounded by little angels, whilst the Virgin and Joseph kneel at the side. The wings contain portraits of the two donors under the form of S. George and S. Eustace represented as knights in steel armour, each with his standard, and the former holding the slain dragon.

The year 1526 was distinguished by the two pictures of the four Apostles: John and Peter, Mark and Paul; the figures are the size of life. These, which are the master's grandest work, and the last of importance executed by him, are now in the Munich Gallery. We know with certainty that they were presented by Albert Dürer himself to the council of his native city in remembrance of his career as an artist, and at the same time as conveying to his fellow-citizens an earnest and lasting exhortation suited to that stormy period. In the year 1627, however, the pictures were allowed to pass into the hands of the Elector Maximilian I. of Bavaria. The inscriptions selected by the painter himself might have given offence to a Catholic prince, and were therefore cut off and joined to the copies by John Fischer, which were intended to indemnify the city of Nuremberg for the loss of the originals. These copies are still in the collection of the Landauer Brüderhaus at Nuremberg.

These pictures are the fruit of the deepest thought which then stirred the mind of Albert Dürer, and are executed with overpowering force. Finished as they are, they form the first complete work of art produced by Protestantism. As the inscription taken from the Gospels and Epistles of the Apostles contains pressing warnings not to swerve from the word of God, nor to believe in the doctrines of false prophets, so the figures themselves represent the steadfast and faithful guardians of that holy Scripture which they bear in their hands. There is also an old tradition, handed down from the master's own times, that these figures represent the four temperaments. This is confirmed by the pictures themselves; and though at first sight it may appear to rest on a mere accidental combination, it serves to carry out more completely the artist's thought, and gives to the figures greater individuality. It shows how every quality of the human mind may be called into the service of the Divine Word. Thus in the first picture, we see the whole force of the mind absorbed in contemplation, and we are taught that true watchfulness in behalf of the Scripture must begin by devotion to its study.

S. John stands in front, the open book in his hand; his high forehead and his whole countenance bear the impress of earnest and deep thought. This is the melancholic temperament, which does not shrink from the most profound inquiry. Behind him S. Peter bends over the book, and gazes earnestly at its contents—a hoary head, full of meditative repose. This figure represents the phlegmatic temperament, which reviews its own thoughts in tranquil reflection. The second picture shows the outward operation of the conviction thus attained and its relation to daily life. S. Mark in the background is the man of sanguine temperament; he looks boldly round, and appears to speak to his hearers with animation, earnestly urging them to share those advantages which he has himself derived from the Holy Scriptures. S. Paul, on the contrary, in the foreground, holds the book and sword in his hands; he looks angrily and severely over his shoulder, ready to defend the Word, and to annihilate the blasphemer with the sword of God's power. He is the representative of the choleric temperament.

We know of no important work of a later date than that just described. His portrait in a woodcut of the year 1527 represents him earnest and serious in demeanour, as would naturally follow from his advancing age and the pressure of eventful times. His head is no longer adorned with those richly flowing locks, on which in his earlier days he had set so high a value, as we learn from his pictures and from jests still recorded of him. With the departure of Hans Holbein to England in 1528 and the death of Albert Dürer in the same year, that excellence to which they had raised German art passed away, and centuries saw no sign of its revival.

Of Hans Holbein, born at Augsburg in 1498, we shall have more to say in a later chapter, when considering the origins of English portraiture. But as in the case of Van Dyck, and in fact of every great portrait painter, his excellence in this particular branch of his art was but one result of his being a born artist and first exercising his talents in a much wider field. In Holbein the realistic tendency of the German School attained its highest development, and he may, next to Dürer, be pronounced the greatest master in it. While Dürer's art exhibits a close affinity with the religious ideas of the Middle Ages, Holbein appears to have been imbued with more modern and more material sentiments, and accordingly we find him excelling Dürer in closeness and delicacy of observation in the delineation of nature. A proof of this is afforded by the evidence of Erasmus, who said that as regards the portraits painted of him by both these artists, that by Holbein was the most like. In feeling for beauty of form, also in grace of movement, in colouring, and in the actual art of painting—in which his father had thoroughly instructed him—Holbein is to be placed above Dürer. That he did not rival the great Italians of his time in "historical" painting can only be ascribed to the circumstances of his life in Germany, where such subjects were not in fashion.

Of his pictures executed before he left his native country the greater number are at Basle and Augsburg, and are therefore less familiar to the general public than his later works. A notable exception is the famous Meyer Madonna, the original of which is at Darmstadt, but a version now relegated, somewhat harshly, to the "copyist" is in the Dresden Gallery, and certainly exhibits as much of the spirit of the master as will serve for an example of his powers. It represents the Virgin as Queen of Heaven, standing in a niche, with the Child in her arms, and with the family of the Burgomaster Jacob Meyer of Basle kneeling on either side of her. With the utmost life and truth to nature, which brings these kneeling figures actually into our presence, says Kugler, there is combined in a most exquisite degree an expression of great earnestness, as if the mind were fixed on some lofty object. This is shown not merely by the introduction of divine beings into the circle of human sympathies, but particularly in the relation so skilfully indicated between the Holy Virgin and her worshippers, and in her manifest desire to communicate to those who are around her the sacred peace and tranquillity expressed in her own countenance and attitude, and implied in the infantine grace of the Saviour. In the direct union of the divine with the human, and in their reciprocal harmony, there is involved a devout and earnest purity of feeling such as only the older masters were capable of representing.

Another of his most beautiful pictures painted in Germany is the portrait of Erasmus, dated 1523. This was sent by Erasmus to Sir Thomas More, at Chelsea, with a letter recommending Holbein to his care, and as it is still in this country—in the collection of the Earl of Radnor at Longford Castle—it is not perhaps too much to hope that it may one of these days find its way into the National Gallery—perhaps when the alterations to the front entrance are completed. This picture has for a very long time been regarded as one of Holbein's very finest portraits. Mr W. Barclay Squire, in the sumptuous catalogue of the Radnor collection compiled by him, quotes the opinion of Sir William Musgrave, written in 1785, "I am not sure whether it is not the finest I have seen"; and that of Dr Waagen, "Alone worth a pilgrimage to Longford. Seldom has a painter so fully succeeded in bringing to view the whole character of so original a mind as in this instance. In the mouth and small eyes may be seen the unspeakable studies of a long life ... the face also expresses the sagacity and knowledge of a life gained by long experience ... the masterly and careful execution extends to every portion ... yet the face surpasses everything else in delicacy of modelling."

Cruel, indeed, was England to have transplanted the one artist who might have saved Germany from the artistic destitution from which she has suffered ever since!

National Gallery, London