The city of Augsburg, Germany has an impressive Renaissance heritage, notably in printmaking innovations, but has long been eclipsed in America by the more well-known Nuremberg. Imperial Augsburg: Renaissance Prints and Drawings, 1475-1540, the first U.S. exhibition to explore Augsburg’s artistic achievements in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, will be on view at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College from September 19 through December 14, 2014.
Organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Imperial Augsburg focuses on prints, drawings, and illustrated books. However, the exhibition also includes medals and one etched set of armor. Of the almost 100 works presented, most are from the National Gallery’s own collection, with additional loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Library of Congress, Washington; and private collectors Andrea Woodner and Andrew Robison. The last major exhibition on this subject was mounted more than three decades ago in Augsburg itself. [See the exhibition checklist.]
This exhibition emphasizes the rich and varied works of art on paper produced in Augsburg from 1475 to 1540, paying particular attention to innovative printmaking techniques as well as the fundamental role of imperial patronage.
“It is truly remarkable that the rich and varied history of works on paper in Renaissance Augsburg can be told almost entirely through the National Gallery’s extensive collection of German prints, drawings, and illustrated books—thanks in large part to the contributions of donors over the course of many decades,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art.
The exhibition was curated by Gregory Jecmen, associate curator of old master prints and drawings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and Freyda Spira, assistant curator of drawings and prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. At the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, the exhibition is coordinated by Patricia Phagan, the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings.
The opening event for the exhibition at Vassar takes place on Friday, September 19, at 5:30pm in Taylor Hall, room 102, with a lecture entitled “Imperial Augsburg: A Flourishing Market for Innovative Prints” by curators Jecmen and Spira. It is followed by a reception in the Atrium of the Art Center at 6:45pm with music of the German Renaissance played by the St. John’s Recorder Ensemble. These events are free and open to the public.
The Vassar Libraries and Department of Music will also present major activities in conjunction with the “Imperial Augsburg” exhibit: a 4-month exhibit in the Thompson Memorial Library will focus on the famed fourteenth-century illustrated book “The Nuremberg Chronicle”, and the early-music vocal ensemble Pomerium will perform a program of “Music for Imperial Augsburg, 1518-1548” at Skinner Hall. These events are free and open to the public. [See further details below.]
Vassar's Phagan points out that several circumstances came together to give Augsburg the opportunity to rise as an art hub. The city, located in the state of Bavaria in southern Germany, was founded as a Roman settlement in the reign of Emperor Augustus in 15 BCE. Located at the confluence of two rivers and on trade routes through the Alps to Italy, Augsburg was a prosperous manufacturing center in the late 15th and early 16th century that gave rise to the great banking houses of the Fugger and the Welser families. “Together, these circumstances fostered an important and diverse artistic community, with an established tradition in the printing and metalworking industries,” Phagan explains.
Augsburg was also favored by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (reigned 1493-1519), whose patronage reveals, more than anything, the magnitude of the city’s prestige and fame. During his rule, Augsburg became the location of an Imperial Diet (council) and the center from which the emperor organized all of his print and armor commissions. “As Augsburg’s artists benefited from the patronage of the Habsburg court they also created works for the city’s thriving art market,” says Phagan.
The exhibition is presented in four galleries. One gallery focuses on devotional prints and illustrated books representing the Christian contemplative life. In this period Augsburg, as elsewhere in Germany, witnessed rapid changes and realignments in theological beliefs. Its Renaissance artists came of age in a society still very much engaged in the devotional customs of the late Middle Ages, and prints seen in the show played an important role in the expression of religious devotion.
This gallery also emphasizes the city’s role as a center for cutting-edge printing techniques of the time, including color printing pioneered there by the native printer Erhard Ratdolt (1447-1528) through his use of multiple carved wooden blocks, one for each color, in imitation of illuminated manuscripts. It was further developed by his apprentice Hans Burgkmair I (1472-1531) who went on to create a series of imaginative and complex prints. Etching, a technique originally used to decorate armor, was first explored in prints in Augsburg, by Daniel Hopfer (ca. 1470-1536), a painter and armor decorator turned printmaker.
Other galleries focus on specific themes. The power of women and everyday morality—common vices and virtues—are illustrated through biblical, chivalric, and mythological tales. In particular, tales of exemplary men undone by alluring women warned that no man could resist the power of the opposite sex. Works also center around fleeting beauty, church hypocrisy, and ever present death. For example, death emerges triumphant in Burgkmair and Jost de Negker’s magnificent The Lovers Surprised by Death, of 1510, the first true chiaroscuro woodcut, where tones of color and black are well integrated to make a completely new kind of print.
Another gallery features portraits of both famous and obscure citizens. Portraits could serve as public tributes; Augsburg’s artists made many medals and prints of famous residents and visitors, which were widely disseminated. The gallery includes several portraits of Emperor Maximilian, part of an intense visual and literary campaign launched by the ruler. Artists also depicted soldiers and knights, as in an elegant drawing by an unknown artist of a knight holding a halberd, a long-handled weapon.
The final gallery explores Augsburg as a focal point for Emperor Maximilian’s book projects. A series of illustrated books glorify Maximilian’s deeds and legitimize his lineage as successor to the Roman emperors. Burgkmair and Leonhard Beck (ca. 1480-1542) provided most of the woodcut illustrations for these books. This gallery also reviews the importance of ornament in the city’s armor productions and prints. Augsburg’s artists were among the first in Germany to imitate and adapt the decorative style of the Italian Renaissance. Fantastic hybrids, griffins, centaurs, music-making animals, and beasts of every kind were arranged in rich and exuberant patterns along with foliage, candelabra, and cornucopia. Daniel Hopfer became known for this kind of Italian-inspired decoration on the armor he designed. The exhibition concludes with ornamental etchings by Hopfer and field armor with lively etched decoration derived from prints by the artist.
A complementary exhibition presented by the Vassar College Libraries explores the most heavily illustrated book of the 15th century, The Nuremberg Chronicle. The exhibition, Never Before Has Your Like Been Printed: The Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, will be on display in the Thompson Memorial Library from August 27 to December 10. It showcases printed leaves and editions of this landmark book, and marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the author, the German humanist Hartmann Schedel.
Imperial Augsburg was first shown at the National Gallery of Art in 2012 and it subsequently traveled to the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. The accompanying catalogue—the first of its kind in English—serves as an introduction to Augsburg, its artists and its cultural history, during this period. The catalogue is available for sale at the Art Center. At Vassar, this exhibition is generously supported by the Evelyn Metzger Exhibition Fund.
Opening Lecture and Reception
Friday, September 19, 5:30 pm
Taylor Hall, room 102
Lecture: “Imperial Augsburg: A Flourishing Market for Innovative Prints” Freyda Spira, assistant curator of drawings and prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Note: Gregory Jecmen of the National Gallery of Art was originally slated to speak as well, but will be unable to attend)
Reception to follow at 6:45 pm in the Atrium of the Art Center with the St. John’s Recorder Ensemble playing music of the German Renaissance.
Sunday, September 21, 3:00 pm
Skinner Hall of Music
A cappella concert of fifteenth and sixteenth century works by the acclaimed group, Pomerium, presented by the Department of Music. Program to include excerpts from Henricus Isaac’s Missa Argentum et aurum, Nicolas Gombert’s Missa Sur tous regrets, as well as ceremonial motets by Isaac, Ludwig Senfl, and Thomas Crecquillon.
Saturday, September 27, 1:30-4:00 pm
An afternoon of fun Renaissance-flavored activities inspired by the Imperial Augsburg exhibition. Explore the galleries and enjoy art-making activities and interactive, kid-friendly tours. Best suited for children ages 4-10. No reservations needed; participants can drop in.
August 27-December 10
Thompson Memorial Library
Organized by the Vassar Libraries, the exhibition Never Before Has Your Like Been Printed: The Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 examines the most heavily illustrated book of the fifteenth century. Printed leaves and editions of the landmark Nuremberg Chronicle will be showcased, and the exhibition also marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the book’s author, the German humanist Hartmann Schedel. [Read more at http://info.vassar.edu/news/announcements/2014-2015/140827-library%20exhibit-nuremberg.html]
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections. The Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 19,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares. Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th-century painters.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and all galleries are wheelchair accessible. The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am–9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00pm. Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion. For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit fllac.vassar.edu.
Directions to the Vassar campus, located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, NY, are available at www.vassar.edu/directions.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.