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would require us to wade through piles of dull volumes, probably leaving us at the end of our labours little more enlightened upon the subject than we are now; when we incline to think with Dr. Waagen that oil colours had been used by early painters, but in an imperfect manner, perhaps equally with the varnishes used for water colours, requiring to be dried in great heat, and that van Eyck’s discovery was a mode of preparing the oil that enabled it to dry without heat. We moreover conceive with Goethe, that he devised a mode of using oil, which gave his colours the clearness so much admired in his pictures.
John van Eyck was followed by a constant succession of painters formed in his school, whom we may pass unnoticed, our object being merely to show the state of the arts north of the Alps prior to Albert Durer. In order to do which completely, we must now turn to another part of the subject, and mention a curious, and, we believe, exclusively German regulation, touching the social condition of the votaries both of the arts and of the muses, which could not but powerfully act upon their genius, taste and feelings; and which, a priori, might well have induced the conclusion, that never by any, the remotest possibility, could Germany produce poet, painter, or sculptor.
These creative spirits “ of imagination all compact,” poets, painters, and sculptors, were constituted into regular guilds, or incorporated companies, as carpenters, blacksmiths, haberdashers, and other trades. The youthful aspirant, deemed by his parents or himself a genius, was formally bound to a master of his craft, and subjected to all the bye-laws, in Germany many and whinsical, applicable to common apprentices and journeymen, ere he could be admitted a master, and set up in trade on his own account. Freedom or mastership was earned by a specimen of the candidate's skill in his business. In poetry this skill was, we know, appreciated more by the observance of arbitrary rules and the management of mechanical difficulties, than by the imagination or passion displayed, and the same spirit would probably prevail in the painters' company.
Turn we now to Albert Durer, whom Germany still esteems one of the brightest jewels in her crown of fame, and who in all other countries, if not regarded with such passionate enthusiasm, is admired as an extraordinary man. As a painter, he is universally allowed to have excelled in conception, in composition, in fertility of invention, (these Vasari says were a mine of wealth, whence subsequent painters, even Italians, borrowed,) in brilliancy of colouring, and in high finish; to have drawn correctly, if somewhat stiffly; and to have reformed, if he did not found the German school of painting. It must be recollected that in
the 15th century facility of intercourse and consequent diffusion of knowledge were not quite what they are in the 19th ; and the German school bad not yet adopted the improvements of the Flemish. Durer's pictures, for the most part crowded with figures, are still preserved in great numbers in public and private galleries, and that even in Italy. What remain to us form, however, in all likelihood, a very small part of what he produced, the works of the older masters having in Germany suffered cruelly from the insane iconoclastic zeal of some of the fanatical sects which there swarmed at the era of the reformation. As an engraver, Albert Durer raised the art from infancy to a degree of perfection that has only in late years been surpassed. Vasari pronounces some of his woodcuts so good, that in many respects it would be impossible to do better. And a recent English authort says, “ It would perhaps be difficult to select a more perfect specimen of executive excellence than his print of St. Jerome, dated 1514.” Albert Durer, moreover, carved in wood and in ivory; studied and understood the arts in all brauches immediately or remotely influencing his own; and wrote treatises, translated into Latin, French, and Italian, upon Perspective, Anatomy, Geometry, Architecture, and the science of Fortification, as well as upon Painting and Sculpture. And all this was accomplished in a life considerably shorter than that usually allotted to man, inasmuch as be who achieved the whole died at the age of 57, of a disease, however irksome, seldom fatal, i. e. a penurious and termagant wife.
We will now open the little volume, to which all we have hitherto said has been but an introduction. It is illustrated with four engravings, namely, of Albert Durer's portrait from his own pencil, of his house, most religiously preserved by the Nurembergers as he inhabited it, of his tomb, and of that of his friend, Wilibald Pirkheimer, a man of considerable consequence in his day, whose wealth, high character and literary connexions, afforded the humbler artist his best means of cultivation. The portrait offers as happy an exemplification of the painter's merits and defects as could well be hoped. Even in the print, we perceive the beautifully high finish of the painting; the resemblance iş manifestly of the kind called a speaking likeness; the features, the flesh, the mild and tranquil intellectual expression, are perfect; the hair is incomparable; and yet the effect of the whole is rather unpleasing, from its inconceivable stiffness and formality. It looks as though the original were spell-bound in
Bryan's Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers, &c. volş. 4to. London, 1816.
immobility, and we almost wonder how he lifted his hand and turned his eyes to paint it.
The literary contents of the volume are papers written by, or relative to, the artist. These are a short account of the Durer family and of Albert's own early youth,-a few letters, --some slight attempts at poetry,-a diary of his journey to, and in, the Netherlands-two dedications of his printed works-and an account of, and elegy upon, his death, by Pirkheimer. The volume is edited by Dr. Friedrich Campe, a Nuremberg gentleman, bearing more literary and municipal designations and dignities than we have patience to transcribe or even to read; and who thus announces the Relics of Albert Durer, in a something, which we know not whether to call a preface, an advertisement, or a dedication to the public:
I hope to offer to the admirers of our Albert Durer no unwelcome gift in this little book, through wbich they will learn to know Durer, painted by himself, better than through the Fancy-pictures (Phantasiegemälde) of modern times."
The first relic, entitled Eigene Familie-Nachrichten von Albrecht Dürer, or Private Family Notices, begins in the following quaint and pious style :
" I, Albert Durer the younger, have put together out of my father's papers whence he was, how he came hither, and remained here, and ended blessedly. God be gracious to him and us! Amen."
The Durer family was, it seems, Hungarian, and their original seat a village named Eytas, near the little town of Jula, and some few more miles from Wardein—(we are not quite sure whether this means Great Wardein or Peterwardein), where, for generations, they followed the occupation of graziers. But the painter's grandfather, Antony Durer, sickening, in boyhood, of this rural pursuit, betook himself to Jula, and was apprenticed to a goldsmith. At Jula he married, settled, and bred up his eldest son Albert (Albert Durer the elder) to his own business, whilst a younger son became a priest at Wardein. Albert travelled through Germany and the Low Countries, improved himself in his art under “ the great artists,” as our Albert terms the skilful Netherland goldsmiths, and finally reached Nuremberg in 1455. There he entered the service of old Jeronymus Haller, an eminent goldsmith, and, at the end of twelve years, his skill, honesty and industry were rewarded with the hand of his master's daughter, Barbara. By her he was the father of eleven sons and seven daughters; our Albert, born in the year 1471, being the second son and third child. The paper thus proceeds :
“ This Albert Durer the elder spent his life in great difficulties, and in hard and heavy work, and had nothing to live upon but what he
earned with his own band for himself, his wife and children, and therefore bad be very little. He experienced manifold crosses, troubles and afflictions. He has also had good praise from all people who knew him; for he led an honest, Christian life, was a patient and soft-tempered man, peaceable towards every one; and he was very thankful to God. Moreover he wanted not much worldly pleasure, he was of few words, kept little company, and was a God-fearing man."
The worthy goldsmith of course brought up his children carefully; and his son thus goes on :
"He had especial pleasure in me, as he saw that I was diligent in learning: therefore my father let me go to school, and when I had learned reading and writing, he took me out of the school, and taught me goldsmith's craft. But now, wben I could work neatly, my inclination led me more to painting than to goldsmith's craft, and that I set forth to my father; but he was not well content, for it repented bim of the lost time tbat I had spent in learning to be a goldsmith; yet be gave way, and on St. Andrew's day, when 1486 years were reckoned from the birth of Christ, my father bound me to Michael Wohlgemuth for my apprenticeship, to serve bim for three years. In that time God gave me industry, so that I learned well, but had much to suffer from bis men; and when my servitude was ended, my father sent me out, and I remained abroad four years, till my father called me back; and as in the year 1490 I had gone eastwards away, so now, when 1494 were reckoned, I came back after Whitsuntide ; and when I was come home, Hans Frey dealt with my father, and gave me to wife his daughter, by name maid Agnes, and gave me with her 200 gulden."
Our monetary science is unequal to turning the lady's dower into pounds, shillings and pence; and with the announcement of his marriage we shall close this simple picture of the training of the greatest painter of his country. The first paper contains little more, except the religious death of his father, his filial care of, and reverence for, his widowed mother, and her death. We proceed therefore to supply, as far as other sources enable us so to do, the particulars of which the artist's own modest record leaves us ignorant.
The skill in goldsmith's work that Albert had acquired prior to his quitting the business, was considerable, and he had produced a representation of The Passion, in enchased silver, which delighted his father, and astonished all masters and judges of the craft in Nuremberg. During the four years of his wanderschaft (this term, which may be Englished his travels or travelship, is the technical designation for a period of wandering exercise of his trade required from every journeyman, and ordained in early times, probably, with a view to the acquisition of the improvements devised in various places,) during this wunderschaft, we say, Albert visited the best living painters of Germany and the
VOL. XI. NO, XXI.
Netherlands, and studied the works of their deceased predecessors. Upon his return to Nuremberg, he executed the test-specimen of his abilities, which was to procure for him the freedom of his Company and the rank of a Master-painter. This was a pen and ink drawing (a style in which he always excelled) of Orpheus under the hands of the enraged Bacchante. It excited universal admiration, especially for the management of the landscape-background; and is said to have been a main cause of Hans Frey's wish to bestow his daughter upon an artist so promising that he could hardly fail to prove a good match.
A marriage, concluded in the business-like way already described, offered little prospect of turning out happily; nor do we find our expectations deceived. The most un-lamblike Agnes, inflicted, rather than bestowed, on the much-enduring Durer, was, as has been insinuated, an avaricious shrew. Other painters, other geniuses, as well as philosophers, have suffered under this sorest of common-place evils; and different men have adopted different ways of remedying or bearing the calamity. Socrates, by mere dint of philosophical equanimity, seems to have regarded Xantippe's modes of annoyance much like those of a fly, or at worst, of a_gnat. The jovial Hans Holbein quietly transferred himself to England, and, with the exception of some few visits, requisite to preserve his rights as a citizen-master-painter of Basle, spent the last eighteen years of his life as a bachelor, or a widower bewitched, at the court of our Henry VIII., leaving his Xantippe to herself, and his luckless brats to stand the brunt of household tempest as they might. Albert Durer, soft-tempered and God-fearing like his father, had perhaps too tender a conscience thus, like Holbein, to shake off the bonds of a solemn engagement upon their becoming burthensome, and too much of the keen susceptibility of genius to acquire any portion of Socratic impassibility. He submitted to his fate, and in the end sank under it.
But if Albert Durer denied himself irregular modes of emancipation from fireside annoyance, it was not for want of knowing and appreciating the felicity that such relief, when fairly attainable, was calculated to afford. In the year 1506 he was called to Venice by an affair which shows how high his reputation then stood in Italy. Marc Antonio, a Bolognese engraver, resident at Venice, had copied some woodcuts of Albert Durer, and in order to pass them off as originals, had likewise copied the German artist's monogram, as an artificial combination of initials, by way of signature, was termed. Durer hastened to Venice, to seek redress from the Venetian government; and so far he obtained it, that Marc Antonio was prohibited from forging his monogram.