German engraving of the 15-16th centuries
The history of engraving in Europe begins in the 15th century simultaneously in several countries. However, its development went differently. Different was the role of engraving in the art of this or that country. In the north, in the work of every German artist, especially the first half of the 16th century, she occupied a significant, sometimes the main place.German engraving
In the history of German art, engraving along with painting determines the style of the Renaissance. The famous “Apocalypse” by Durer on emotional strength, passion and philosophical depth is in line with the largest creations of masters of the Northern Renaissance.
The reasons for the intensive development of engraving in Germany in the 15th and 16th centuries and the great interest that arose in it in the most diverse strata of society were due to changes in the social, economic, political and spiritual life of the country.
The development of capitalism and the emergence of bourgeois relations have come into sharp conflict with the old traditions. In Germany, this manifested itself in all spheres of human activity and was characterized by a sharp struggle in which various forms of antifeudal and class actions intertwined with the struggle for the renewal of the church and religion, the creation of a single German state, the liberation of man from feudal oppression and the path of medieval thinking. The Reformation movement contributed to the rise of progressive forces in the country and at the same time had a decisive influence on the development of art.
The need for engraving, its wide spreading arises in Germany at the turn of the 15th-16th centuries, when the participation of the masses in the Reformation becomes most active. Engraving, widely available to all segments of society, met the requirements of the era. Insufficient literacy and the search for means of communication, interest in the world around him and the opening possibility of his satisfaction, participation in the political and religious struggle and the need for agitation, the urgent need for free communication with a wide audience made engraving the most common and most necessary form of art in Germany. This determined its rapid growth and the special position that singled it out among other arts.
The utilitarian purpose of the engraving was already evident at the time of its appearance. The first printed sheets refer to so-called playing cards. Most of them differed in the skill of execution, subtlety and refinement of forms. Knowledge of the material and skillful use of its features indicate that they originated in a professional environment and were directly related to crafts developed in the Middle Ages.
Engraving on copper (the earliest prints date back to 1430-ies) came from the workshops of gold and silver craftsmen, one of the stages of the work was the verification of jewelry engraving with the help of an imprint. The first craftsmen-engravers were artisans with good professional skills and artistic taste. Their engravings attracted the attention of artists, connoisseurs, amateurs, and also the church. By her order, already in the middle of the 15th century, there were engravings with images of saints, scenes from the life of Christ and Mary, which were sold as indulgences at fairs.
In the engraving engraving of the 15th century, the religious theme existed in parallel with the secular one *. Most often there are chivalric scenes, tournaments, battles and so-called love gardens. Along with samples of ornaments, alphabet, jewelry, church utensils, they are repeated with small variations in the work of almost every master. Samples of ornaments were published separately in the form of albums and served as a tool both for the training of future artists and for the work of professional painters, sculptors, jewelers, engravers, and calligraphy monks.
Early German engravings on copper in their style are clearly divided into two groups, which indicates the existence of two schools, or two centers,
engravings in Germany. On the one hand – it’s the south, the cities of the upper and middle Rhine, where in about the 30s of the 15th century a printing press appeared and where the largest masters of engravings of this time worked: Master of playing cards, Master E.S. and Martin Schongauer. On the other – north, where the appearance and development of engraving was a kind of reflection of what was happening in the south and in the Netherlands. The works of the northern masters in their bulk represented free copies from the engravings of the same Master E.S. or Martin Schongauer.
The latter had a decisive influence not only on the development of the German engraving of the 15th century, but also laid the foundation for the brilliant flowering of engraving in Germany in the next century. Creativity of the Master of playing cards, Masters E.S. and Martin Schongauer are the three main stages of the development of cutter engraving on copper in the 15th century. The works of each of these engravers testify to the gradual expansion of topics, the transfer of emphasis from one subject to another, of a gradual technological evolution, the main goal of which was to solve increasingly complex plastic problems.
Master of playing cards and Master E.S., known for monograms, put on some sheets, were silversmiths, brought up on the samples of medieval knight culture. In the works of each of them, an important place was occupied by the stories that date back to the knightly novels of the late Middle Ages. However, the image of the “beautiful lady”, so typical for the art of the late Middle Ages, takes on a more realistic character in the work of these engravers.
In the same direction, the popular theme “The Garden of Love” is developing.
The ideal heroes of courtly novels appear in engravings in the form of exquisite aristocrats, endowed with characteristic features of contemporaries.
A small period of time, separating the activities of two engravers, makes significant differences in their art. So the Master of playing cards, whose flowering of creativity falls on 40 – 50th years of 15 centuries, is still limited in a choice of plots. In addition to various series of playing cards with magnificent images of birds, animals, flowers, ladies and gentlemen, he performed only a few etchings of religious and secular content.
Engravings of the Master E.S. impress with their thematic breadth. Secular subjects become more diverse. At the same time,
measures of engravings and their circulation. The religious theme, plots related to the life of Christ and Mary are introduced in the engraving much wider. A noticeable rapprochement of engraving with other arts begins: a series of saints and apostles are performed as models for sculptors, a series of alphabets. In parallel, there is a process of various kinds of borrowings from painting and sculpture. Master E.S. was the most active engraver of the 15th century: he executed about 317 engravings. Entering constantly new topics, he did not concentrate his attention on the composition, but borrowed it from the sculptural and pictorial works of his contemporaries, sometimes transferring into his sheets whole pieces of picturesque compositions by Dutchmen Dirk Bouts or Rogier van der Weyden. The engraver’s acquaintance with their works enriched his work, but did not stop to create his own style in engraving. Out of his cutter came works of art that have an independent artistic value.
The pictorial language of the Master E.S. in comparison with its predecessor has changed markedly.
In the works of these masters, the original space was a two-dimensional space of the plane (originally a metal board), which was decorated with silver and gold jewelry. The image was built from the bottom to the top and from right to left, many decorative elements were introduced into it. However, with all the generality of the techniques of the Master E.S. markedly different from the manner of the Master of playing cards. In the engravings of the latter a thin soft line outlines the smooth silhouette of the figure. Frequent notching in one direction replaces the stroke and helps to slightly outline the shadows, to achieve some roundness of barely noticeable shapes. Schematic garlands of flowers decorating clothes, calm flowing rhythms fall down and give the whole image an ornamental character.
For the Master E.S. The line is a conscious and basic element of construction. It is just as thin, but sharper, breaking at the corners, it easily curls over the entire sheet, giving the image a restless, almost dancing rhythm. This line, always one saturation, without sharp gradations of black and white, creates a transparent silver calligraphic pattern on the sheet. The engraver introduces for the first time in the engraving engraving a variety of strokes, including cross-hatching, which he uses still very delicately, slightly outlining the transitions to the shadows.
In the engravings of both masters first of all there is a difference in their practical purpose. Quiet image of the “Knight with the lion cub” The masters of playing cards are closed and isolated, it is not designed for emotional communication with the viewer. The stocky, dense figure of the young man is extremely laconic. This is the specificity of playing cards intended for practical use. “The couple in love” of Master E.S., on the contrary, is directed directly to the viewer, the gentleman and the lady are posing. The engraver has other tasks. His goal – the creation of a work of art, which will admire the viewer. It is a brilliant and ephemeral world of love and courtesy, where all the beauty of the epoch is concentrated and where everything is brought to the limit: refinement, grace, joy.
With all the significant technical innovations, the figurative structure of the engravings of Master E.S. still strongly associated with the traditions of the Middle Ages. Thus, the task of placing heroes in a natural environment (landscape, interior) is determined not so much by the desire to know and convey the world around them, as by an amazing love for the image of things, objects, flowers, animals, which, in engraving, live on their own and create a kind of ornamental ornamental background .
Martin Schongauer, an artist belonging to the last, third generation of engravers, tries to find a certain relationship between man and his environment.
century. Since the 1470s, the cutting engraving in Germany has become the brainchild of painters, and not gold and silver masters. It is more connected with the workshops of artists, who simultaneously possess the skills of jewelers.
The largest of them was Martin Schongauer, who turned to engraving in the last third
century, already a mature artist, a painter of high professional level. He was the son of a jeweler and knew the engraving business well.
In the second half of the 15th century, those turbulent events that led to the Reformation and the Peasants’ War were already beginning in Germany. This was one of the reasons that the religious theme, in which the ideas of the Reformation are reflected, becomes the leading one in the work of artists. To replace the clear and easy compositions of Master E.S. comes the complexity and expressiveness of the works of Martin Schongauer.
The engraving of Schongauer “The Great Bearing of the Cross” (circa 1474) occupies a special place in the German graphic of the 15th century. The largest in size, the most complex in terms of the compositional solution, unique in the 15th century for a variety of types, characters, human feelings, intensity of action, this engraving stands out even among the most dramatic works of Schongauer. The image is built on the principle of a story, detailing the tragic procession of Christ to Calvary. The grandiose nature of the procession is emphasized by the circular composition construction. In the darkened middle part of the sheet is the almost doubled figure of Christ. The artist resorts to contrasting comparisons, thereby enhancing the dramatic character of the scene. Gloating and cruelty, indifference and anger, joy and sorrow – all this was transmitted with such force, which did not know before engraving.
Working on the engraving as an independent work of art, Schongauer strove to paint the finished page. His graphic compositions, as a rule, are independent. The main elements of the construction are the contouring line and the stroke, modeling volumes. The dash in the engravings of Schongauer is surprisingly diverse. It differs not only in its direction (the artist makes it either parallel or crossed), but also with depth of tone. By deepening the groove or making it very shallow, the master achieves a different saturation of the stroke and achieves the first effects of tonality in the cutter engraving.
Such a wealth of dashed construction allowed the artist to convey the bulk of the figures. Schongauer sought to arrange them so that the composition created the impression of an illusory three-dimensional space. However, here his aspirations came across a lack of knowledge of the laws of perspective and illumination. The figures are piled one under the other, the contours are sharply outlined and closed, the light source is absent. The problem of light is not yet available to Schongauer, so his characters live not in space, but in the plane of the sheet.
In the “Assumption of Mary” (circa 1471 – 1474) rich shading creates a certain tonal flavor. Clothes seem darker and lighter. At the same time, the abundance of ornate and tangled lines speaks of Schongauer’s excessive enthusiasm for the linear feature of incisive engraving and underestimation of its plastic possibilities. The contour continues to play a dominant role, and the stroke, despite its diversity, often does not even follow the shape of the volume.
The art of the second half of the 15th century is characterized, on the one hand, by the strengthening of religious themes in engraving, and on the other – by the penetration of democratic tendencies into it. At Schongauer for the first time in engraving there is an image of a peasant, a common man. This theme in conjunction with the gospel story will become a characteristic feature of the art of the subsequent era. The Gospel story “The Flight into Egypt” serves as the basis for depicting the genre scene “Peasants on the road to the market” (circa 1471 – 1473) –
A special charm of the composition is attached to the landscape, depicted with great love. He helps the artist, who is striving for a reliable transfer of events, to convey the naturalness of the scene.
The first authors of woodcuts based on the material’s possibilities (the relative softness of the tree itself made the engraver work mainly with a line, not a stroke, so the line was larger, blacker and softer than in metal), retained the decorative basis of the engraving even when they introduced Colour. So in the engraving of the unknown master “Rest on the way to Egypt”
(about 1410) the flatness of the sheet is underlined by a local dark background. The author does not just paint, he decorates an engraving. The sonorous tones of red and blue are arranged rhythmically over the entire surface and create a joyful bright spectacle.
In an unusual combination of the solemnly-majestic Mary with the baby in her arms and the figurines of Joseph in the form of a small gnome serving her, there is a moment of irony, rooted in folk art. Elements of folk humor are also found in the book illustration, which from the 15th century began to be performed in wood engraving. The source of book engraving of the 15th century was a folk picture, into which text was introduced and released in the form of so-called block books. They consisted of several sheets, stitched together. Usually, the text and the image were cut out on one board. The popularity of popular products led to the development of “block books”, which in turn contributed to the development of printing.
The first “block books”, or “block books”, came from the workshops of carvers, combining the duties of a carver, printer and publisher. Invented in the middle of the 15th century by Gutenberg, a printing press and a mobile typing alphabet (letters), marked the beginning of the typographic method of publishing books.
On the succession of books handwritten and printed from wooden boards came a large-circulation and cheap typographic book of high quality. This was in accordance with the spirit of the times, therefore, in a short time, printing houses appeared in all the major cities of Germany – printers. The publishers who led them cared not only
about the quality and quantity of publications, but also about the artistic design of the book.
The main means of decorating typographic publications was woodcut. To create it, professional knowledge and talent of artists were needed, which became familiar to the complex process of creating an illustrated printed book. There was a kind of division of labor. The artist made a drawing for the future engraving taking into account all the features of the technique, the cutter cut it in a tree, and a special publishing printer followed its seal in the book. Such a system was transferred to easel engraving and was preserved until the middle of the 16th century. Despite the fact that the author of the engraving was considered an artist, the quality of it depended largely on the performer, on his skill and professional skills.
The involvement of artists in the work on the book had a beneficial effect both on the development of woodcuts, and on the work of the artists themselves, enriching them with new topics.
Painter, draftsman, engraver, humanist, scientist, Durer was the first artist in Germany to study mathematics and mechanics, building and fortification. He was the first in Germany to try to apply his scientific knowledge in the field of perspective in art and was one of the few German artists century, left behind a literary heritage
Having received the first artistic skills in his father’s family – the gold and silver works of the master, having learned the secrets of the picturesque craftsmanship and the art of woodcuts from the largest Nuremberg artist Michael Wolgemuth, Durer kept a lifelong attachment to different kinds of art.
Dürer’s appeal to engraving led to a sharp change in the evaluation of its features, capabilities and purpose. The dramatic events of the era he witnessed were reflected in his woodcut engravings. At the same time, in engravings on copper, the artist worked on creating a harmonious image close to the Italian humanistic ideals. These two facets of creativity existed in parallel, exerting mutual influence on each other. The engraving on the tree, close to folk pictures and illustrations, was more understandable to the people for whom it was produced. Cutting engraving on copper made it possible to solve specific art problems and was intended for spectators who were more prepared to perceive art.
The very first woodcut engraver, made in Nuremberg in the 1490s, was qualitatively and stylistically different from everything that was created before it. At the same time, the influences experienced by the novice master were also evident. This is primarily the influence of German woodcuts 15th century with its pronounced decorative beginning and the works of Italian engravers, who at that time often went to Nuremberg and to the workshop of Wolgemut. Under their influence in the early xylographs of Dürer appear the features of monumentality and heroism. But for the rest of his life the artist keeps in touch with the traditions of German art, with his love for the concrete, for nature, for the transfer of details and details, for the depiction of scenes of people’s life.
Durer was one of the first artists to feel not only the decorative possibilities of woodcuts, but also the emotional expressiveness of this technique. In his early engravings to convey the tension of the scene, he used the elastic clarity of black lines contrasting with a white sheet of paper.
The artist, in the xylograph “Samson” (1496 – 1497), showed the heavy struggle, demanding the full payoff of all human forces. The graphic structure of the engraving, inextricably linked with the character of the composition, is subordinated to this main theme. A complex pattern of curling in tight rings of rings corresponds to a composition twirled into a ball, in which the human body and the lion are intertwined. The line became the bearer of emotional expressiveness and expression of the image. Durer, apparently, he tried to cut an engraving. Only this can explain such an accurate feeling of elasticity, clarity and tension of each line.
In an engraving less connected with medieval traditions than painting, Dürer attempted to express the rebellious spirit of his time. Therefore, he invested so much passion in the series “Apocalypse”. The theme of “Apocalypse” (1498) is consonant with the sentiments prevailing in Germany at the end of the 15th century. Constant internecine wars, famine, epidemics, rumors about the impending end of the world and the Last Judgment, which supposedly threatens humanity in 1500 – all this was reflected in the engravings of the Apocalypse. The series, named after the popular publications “Apocalypse in the faces”, was intended for the widest distribution.
It consisted of fifteen large sheets, the text of which was published not only in Latin, but also in German and was placed on the back of the engravings. Durer boldly turns representatives of different classes of German society into heroes of the “Apocalypse”. He is not afraid to say that all are equal before the punishment of heaven. This revelation sounds in the fourth sheet of the series, which is called “The Four Apocalyptic Horsemen.” They sweep over the world, in their impetuous movement the artist sees not only a destructive but also a cleansing beginning.
This topic becomes the main theme of the series. The artistic language of engraving acquires a greater concreteness, dynamism, boldness. Each image has its own emotional key and is built on the allocation of the main action. Thus, the impetuosity of the movement became the main motive in the Four Apocalyptic Horsemen. Waving clothes, strong gestures, raised weapons, fleeing and panicking people, every detail enhances the impression of an accelerating pace. The composition is built on crossed diagonal axes, which emphasizes its expressiveness.
Otherwise, the composition of the engraving “The Battle of the Archangel Michael” (1498) is solved, the main pathos of which is in the clash of two opposite principles: good and evil, light and darkness. The sheet is divided horizontally into two unequal parts. The action taking place in the sky occupies a central place, the image of the earth is only a small part of the leaf. Mikhail’s frail body resists the huge shapeless mass of the dragon, the contrast of a fierce battle in the sky is the peaceful tranquility reigning on earth. The confused Gothic pattern of lines in the upper part of the leaf is contrasted with a calm and clear picture depicting a quiet rural landscape.
Despite the separate Gothic features (multifigurity, congested composition, elongated proportions, ornate, brittle lines), the series “Apocalypse” is perceived as a product of the New Time. The features of the new manifested, first of all, in the individual interpretation of the plot, in the activity that Durer gives to his heroes, in their passionate determination, efficiency, heroism. In terms of the breadth of events, emotional strength, integrity and monumentality, “Apocalypse” is the largest work in the art of the Northern Renaissance.
Dürer lived and worked at a time when a stormy struggle of the Reformation, led by Luther, was taking place in Germany for the renovation of the church, which set in motion all strata of German society. Proponents of the Reformation sought to simplify the processes of worship, make Scripture its main source. Luther translates the Bible into German. Durer, however, striving to bring Holy Scripture to life, shifts his individual legends to the popular language of the language of pictures.
So there was a series of “Life of Mary” (1502 – 1510). Twenty engravings to it, unlike the “Apocalypse” embodied the worldly ideal of the artist. The images of the apocryphal legend became even more concrete, more vital. The artist endowed them with features of his contemporaries and transferred the effect of a number of engravings to the real situation of Germany of the 16th century.
With a new genre interpretation of biblical events, a new composition solution of scenes, a new graphic language, has come.
“Meeting Joachim and Anna” (1504) is a meeting of two elderly people, taking place on the square of a medieval German city. The artist highlights the heroes, pushing them forward and inserting their figures into the arch. The character of this scene, calm and poetic, corresponds to the figurative structure of the engraving – the smooth lines of the folds of clothing, soft silhouettes, echoing the rhythm of the arches.
Without violating the specifics of the cutter engraving, Dürer draws new and unexpected effects from this technique. The artist does not only create the illusion of shapes and volumes, but also transmits the texture of different materials: shiny silk fabrics, animal wool, textures wood, smooth surface of the bench. With the help of short parallel lines, he depicts a play of light, solar flares vibrating on the surface of a bench, a table, a floor. In this universal harmony, he does not cease to admire the objects surrounding man, carefully distinguishing the features of each.
Lighting plays a big role in all three sheets. In “St. Jerome” it creates a mood and has a semantic meaning. The Cabinet, for all the specificity of its surroundings, seems transformed into something sublime-perfect, thanks to the streams of sunlight pouring through the windows. In “The Knight, Death and the Devil” – plays a symbolic and compositional role. The sheet is divided into two plans. The first is the darker, where through the grim gorge the knight moves courageously, being between death and the devil. The second is flooded with light. These are two different worlds, but to get into the second, we must overcome the darkness and horrors of the first. The rainbow and the light of a falling comet,
illuminated the sky in the engraving “Melancholy”, emphasize the special universal significance of what is happening. To match this unusual vision with the unusual chaotic piling of objects, and the wings behind the woman’s back. It is perceived as an unearthly being, but tormented by human doubts and pain.
These three engravings embody, on the one hand, heroism in overcoming difficulties and self-control, expressed with the passion that is characteristic of Germany of the Reformation, and on the other – self-deepening, dissatisfaction, almost Faustian theme of “Melancholy”. A certain consistent connection of engravings makes it possible to consider “Melancholia” as the final part of the “triptych”. Subject-unrelated, they had a profound meaning. They were, according to Thomas Mann, “a whole complex of fate,” in which the “hero” was simultaneously a “victim,” but which became “a harbinger of a new higher humanity.” It is here that the fine thread that connects Durer’s art with the art of Rembrandt passes.
The seventeenth century with his interest in the complex, ever changing world of man turned to a new technique of engraving – etching. But its origin dates back to the beginning of the 16th century, and the first attempts to master the specificity of etching on iron belong to Albrecht Durer. True, etching with its impulsive line, sharp light contrasts and at the same time sketchiness, could not with sufficient force and persuasiveness express the artistic ideals of the Renaissance. In addition, the technical imperfection of the new technique (iron after oxidation rapidly oxidized and the board died) also hampered its rapid development. Durer did only six etchings and abandoned this technique, since its possibilities ran counter to his aspirations to create a rationally constructed, classically harmonious image. These tasks were most fully met by woodcut and incisive engraving.
If engravings on Dürer’s tree contributed to a sharp qualitative leap in the development of woodcuts, engravings on copper continued the gradual evolution of this technique, the top of which were three “master” engravings.
At the end of the 15th century, the first contour cutter engraving was replaced by engravings with a plastic solution. However, Dürer’s largest predecessor in this field, Martin Schongauer, revealing volumes, setting plastic tasks, could not solve the problems of light yet. Following Schongauer, Durer developed a complex hatching system that allowed him to introduce light into the engraving and build the whole image with tonal gradations. The entire path of the development of incisive engraving was directed towards approximation to picturesqueness, three-dimensionality and spatiality. Creativity Durer was the pinnacle on this path. He first raised the engraving to the level of high art, to which only painting and sculpture used to be.
The artist’s graphics are unusually rich and diverse in techniques (woodcut, engraving on copper, dry needle, etching), and on subjects (mythological, biblical, modern), and genres (illustration, portrait, everyday theme, decorative engraving).
Often in the engravings of Durer there are images of peasants (“Dancing peasants”, 1514, “Three peasants”, 1497 – 1498, “Peasants going to the market”, 1519). On the eve of the events of the Peasants’ War, the engraver gives his heroes a brutal and mighty force, determination and militancy. At the same time, in his attitude towards them, the irony and indulgence of the townspeople are evident.
The portrait occupied a significant place in the work of Durer-painter. In the last years of his life he turned to this genre and in engraving. Among the portraits performed by the cutter are the images of prominent humanists of the 16th century Erasmus of Rotterdam and Philip Melanchthon, the friend of the artist Willibald Pirkheimer, the major political figures of the time Frederick the Wise and Albrecht of Brandenburg. Along with the exact external characteristic, the artist always emphasizes the significance of the person portrayed, and in the inscriptions praises the high qualities and merits of everyone. Graphic portraits, made by Durer, – a kind of monument to contemporaries.
The richness of imagination, the depth of creative thought, the skill of the artist are most fully manifested in the field of engraving, so she rightfully owns the leading role in his work. Dürer’s works remain the top in the engraving of the 16th century. He so widely and fruitfully manifested himself in all kinds and genres of engraving, so fully revealed in it the most important problems of his time, achieved such technical perfection that his fellow-cutters often followed the models of the great master, using his themes, iconography and technical achievements.
Biblical and evangelical subjects were leading in the work of German artists of the 16th century. However, along with them, thanks to the work of A. Durer, the ancient German theme was widely included in the art of German engraving, having received a diverse and complex interpretation. One side,
artists began to turn to purely ancient subjects, which on the basis of northern humanism and the Reformation acquired a moralizing connotation. On the other hand, interest in the nude body, in ancient monuments, in literary works is combined with interest in national traditions. This led to the creation of iconographically complex and unusual works.
Masters of engravings of the first third of the 16th century were, directly or indirectly, Durer’s disciples. In their art they relied either on personal experience in his studio, or on his works. One of Dürer’s most talented students was Hans Baldung, nicknamed Green.
In the engravings of Baldung, there is an obvious interest in man, but he does not endow him with the harmony and tranquility inherent in Italian art, or with inner spirituality, like Durer. For Baldung, man is a part of nature, its elemental beginning. He worked mainly in engraving on wood, striking spectators with unexpected compositions of his sheets, complex movement and foreshortening, sharp lighting, which serves to convey the emotion and emotion of images.
In the engraving of The Witches (1510), the mysterious action taking place against the backdrop of the raging nature is of an ominous nature. An evil beginning, beyond the mind of man, existing in nature, in people, in animals, becomes an integral part of Baldung’s art. It was in the people, in his work, folklore, magic, that the artist drew his themes.
The engravings of Hans Baldung do not give an idea of the evolution of his graphic art.
Already in the first sheets of the artist appears as a completely established master, who freely owns the perspective and anatomy, assimilated in the workshop of Durer.
Baldung perfectly felt the material. But, striving for the intense force of images, he, like Durer in later years, reduces the emotional and decorative beginning. The engraver brings the line to such laconicism that it turns into a dry hard stroke (“Wild horses”), or introduces color and a white stroke (“Witches”). In the “Witches” sheet a complex composition with interwoven figures of people, animals and plants is enhanced by an additional color (the artist used a tone board) and a white stroke that convey the effect of mysterious night lighting. The powerful bodies of witches are like huge tree trunks. Short rounded strokes only simulate shapes.
Compositions depicting animals are especially rapid. And animals, like man, do not exist in themselves, but as a particle of nature, its primordial power (“Wild Horses”, 1534). Hard, jerky lines build the composition of this engraving. Baldung retains the feeling of the material. The frozen bodies of animals are transmitted so voluminously that involuntarily resemble carved in the tree figures. The artist as if specifically refuses to calm and beautiful compositions, introduces sharp angles to convey the impetuous movement. However, it does not develop. The rebellious animals froze, they can not turn around and
continue its movement in space. A sheet of paper is small to give an outlet to their movement.
The compositions of Baldung’s engravings are diverse, but dynamic, unusual and mysterious are always emphasized in them. One of the most difficult to decipher the master’s engravings is his famous sheet “Bewitched groom” (1544). Two themes are connected here, to which the artist repeatedly addressed in his work: the theme of witchcraft and the theme of a rebellious animal. Fused together, they give a special mystery to this sheet. The attractive power of engraving is not only in the originality of the plot, in the perfection and laconism of the graphic language, but also in the inner mysterious life of the image itself.
Engraving is not designed for her quiet reading. The story, like Durer, is missing. Baldung chooses the climax of action. The spectator himself should think out, develop the event, taking the emotional attitude of the engraving with the help of composition, lighting, form, angles, the nature of strokes and lines. He becomes a participant in events, is involved in the action.
Engravings by Hans Baldung Green – a significant phenomenon in the German chart of the first third
16th century. He endowed his heroes with the strength and power inherent in the Renaissance man. But unlike Durer, who was constantly striving for harmony, Baldung destroys the life-affirming Renaissance principle. The image of the surrounding world is based on the subjective perception of the artist with heightened emotionality, which leads to exaggerated sharpness, dynamic drawing. It is these qualities that allow attributing the work of Baldung to the first manifestations of Mannerism in Germany.
The monumental features of the Dürer engraving are preserved by another of his contemporaries, Hans Burgmeier the Elder. However, his monumentality is spectacular and purely decorative. Working with Durer on the creation of the famous series “The Triumphal Procession of the Emperor Maximilian,” Burgmeier borrowed much from his great compatriot; a sample and source for his art was also Italian art. His engravings are inherent in the richness of ornaments, the wide, sweeping manner of drawing. Following the Italian masters of engraving, Burgmeier, like Baldung Green, introduces color for the first time into woodcuts. In contrast to the painted engraving of the 15th century, its sheets are printed from several boards according to the type of kyaroskuro. Compositional construction of each of them – an abundance of ornaments adorning suits, utensils, furniture, attest to the desire to create a bright and magnificent decorative style. In the engraving “Emperor Maximilian on horseback” (1518), he strove to emphasize the majesty of the image, but the richness of the ornamental patterns that cover the garment of the emperor, the decoration of the horse obscure the image of the hero.
The largest work of Burgmeier in engraving was a series of illustrations to “Weiskunig” (1512 – 1516) and “Teyerdanku” (1517), literary works telling about the life and work of Emperor Maximilian. The artist shows much ingenuity, reproducing various scenes from the life of the emperor, emphasizing the magnificent and solemn style that Maximilian tried to maintain in his court.
The first third of the 16th century was a period of turbulent social, political and cultural changes. In these years of religious wars and peasant uprisings are working great thinkers and humanists of Germany, artists and writers. Many artists were not only personally acquainted with the outstanding political figures of their time, but also took an active part in the events taking place in the country. It is only natural that their works were of an acute, often topical nature. The greatest master, associated with the Reformation, which reflected in its schedule all the complex aspects of the movement, was Hans Holbein the Younger.
A humanist, active and active member of the Reformation, Holbein left a significant mark in engraving, working mainly as an illustrator. The influence of Italian humanism, acquaintance with Erasmus Rotterdam contributed to the development of the artist’s rational view of the world. Humanistic world view, political activity, bright satirical orientation of works are characteristic for this master. Holbein did not hide his social and religious views and embodied them in his art. Using engraving as the most effective tool in the struggle against Rome, with the Pope, he issued several sheets against the trade in indulgences (“The Pope’s Entry into Hell”, 1527).
Engravings Holbein, as well as folk pictures, were intelligible and enjoyed great popularity among the most diverse layers of society. Especially popular in the 16th century was the illustration of Holbein to the “Dance of Death” (1526). The content of each engraving of this series is very close to the people’s ideas about death: death is always, everywhere, with everyone, it acts, it punishes. The main idea of the series is the same as that of Durer, about the equality of all before death. The artist shows how each member of society meets death. In his behavior lies the expository force of Holbein’s criticism. The humorous and satirical attitude of the artist to the pope, the cardinals and monks is akin to the people’s attitude toward the clergy and unambiguously recalls retaliation. The satirical and tragic are connected in this series. The severity of the content, the laconism of artistic means give these small-sized engravings a special significance.
The graphic art of Lucas Cranach the Elder largely reflects the richness and variety of artistic pursuits of the time. The breadth of the theme, the brightness of the artistic language, the requirements that the artist presented to the engraving, are close to the work of Durer. The art of Cranach, placed at the service of the Reformation movement, was drawn to the traditions of the national school. Cranach is one of the creators of the landscape genre in engraving. His woodcuts of the 1500s are distinguished by the emotional perception of nature. Through his works he influenced the work of the masters of the Danube school.
The beauty of the world around him, the poetic spirituality of his native landscape, are given in the engraving “Adam and Eve”, where man and nature are one thing. Like many of his contemporaries, Cranach often introduces color into the woodblock in his early works. Since the 1510s, the artist lives in Wittenberg, which became the center of the Reformation movement. It is in Wittenberg that M. Luther hangs on his door the famous theses directed against the Catholic Church. Cranach, along with other humanists of the Wittenberg University, shares his views.
The artist performs a portrait of Luther, produces leaflets in defense of his teachings, illustrates his books. In Wittenberg, Cranach first refers to a satirical chart. The most significant graphic work of the artist during this period was the series “Apostles” (1515). It expresses the pathos of this rebellious period of German history. The powerful figures of the apostles are full of determination, they symbolize the struggle for a new religion.
More grotesque character is the series “Passion” (1509 – 1511), created under the influence of engravings by A. Durer. The compositions of the sheets are simple and concise. The artist specifically resorts to simplified methods, using only a contour line and a small hatch. He seeks to the simplicity and intelligibility of his prints, viewing them as a mass art, serving as a propaganda for Luther’s ideas.
Contemporaries and followers of Durer, following his traditions, expanded (only partially) and deepened the themes and genres over which he worked. Among the students of Durer was a group of artists who were called “small masters.”
This group consisted of Nuremberg engravers – the brothers Bartel and Hans Zebald Beham, Georg Pentz, Heinrich Aldehrever. According to their convictions, these artists occupied the left position in the Reformation and stood not on the side of M. Luther, but on the side of the leader of the peasants, T. Münzer. In 1525, the Beham brothers, together with G. Penz, were arrested, imprisoned, and then deported from Nuremberg for their atheistic and social views.
The favorite technique of all “small masters” was a cutting engraving on copper. The most prolific in this group was Hans Zebald Beham. His prints on modern, antique or biblical subjects are always of a national character. Heroes of the artist – ordinary people, peasants or townspeople, the action is always stressed everyday, but it is depicted with extraordinary breadth and detail. Separate details, trifles, seen in life, Beham with such diligence endures in his compositions, that they often hide the main action. Hans Zebald Beham made drawings for woodcut engraving, which stylistically differed little from the incisive engravings.
The younger contemporary of Durer Henry Aldehrever performed in the technique of cutter engraving a series of “Wedding dancers” (1538). Aldehriver, possessing excellent skills of draftsman and master cutter, achieves grace in his small sheets. The engraver admires the dancers and musicians, their rich decoration. Observing formal receptions, Aldegrever puts plastic possibilities of incisive engraving on the service of decorative purposes.
In the 1530s, a gradual change in the style of engraving takes place. It mills and it manifests itself not only in the arisen interest in a small format, but in the appearance of dryness, a formal technical approach to engraving. There is a decline in that inner heat that was the driving force in the work of Albrecht Durer.
In the first half of the 16th century, many artists applied to engraving in Germany. Most of them failed to rise even to the level of style created by “small masters”. Their engravings, copies, imitations filled the markets of the country, but they do not represent artistic interest.
On this monotonous background are the engravings of the artists of the Danube school. They were fine painters and draftsmen who worked in different cities along the Danube. They created their own style in engraving, for the first time turning to an independent landscape. Their art was based on national folklore traditions, on scientific research 16th century.
Using the new technique of the 16th century – etching, Albrecht Altdorfer, the largest representative of this school, performed a series of landscapes. Altdorfer’s engravings convey a trembling sense of nature, in which man and architectural structures are only staffing. The main thing in his works is a mysterious and fantastic world of nature, equivalent in value to man. A thin line, rounded by small rings, slides along the entire sheet, delineating the sharp branches of firs and pines, the bushy foliage of birches and poplars, and the silhouetted mountains in the distance. At the same time, the artist manages to convey the joyful mood that arises in his contemplation of his native nature.
The works of Altdorfer, like other artists of the Danube school, are close to engravings of “small masters”. But his sheets are imbued with tender warmth and goodness, which raise them above the ordinary and put them in a special position among the works of his contemporaries.
German engraving of the 15th and 16th centuries went from the very first, extremely thin in its decorative decision and timid in execution of the sheets, to the heights of the art of engraving in Durer’s work. The variety of German engraving is not only in its technical wealth, which was perfected by every new generation of engravers, and in its thematic breadth, but also in those high moral, philosophical, and universal human problems that each of these masters solved in their own way. Precisely because of the formulation and solution of the most pressing problems of its time, engraving in Germany in the 15th and 16th centuries took the leading place.