Rarely does one see any catalogue about Northern drawings from the sixteenth century, let alone one that illustrates works from across the Midwest of the United States. The very appearance of this catalogue, third volume in an ongoing series by the Midwest Art History Society, should excite not only curators but academics alike. Featured collections include: Arkansas, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and St. Louis, as well as even smaller museums in Dayton and Notre Dame. This volume was compiled by a team of twenty-six authors, led by Barton L. Dunbar, Robert Munman, and Edward J. Olszewski (the latter two Italian specialists) with Dawn E. Sanders; it encompasses 137 drawings.
The roster includes outstanding examples by German masters: three works by Albrecht Dürer (nos. 86, 87, 90); the melancholy Blue Rollerby Hans Hoffman (no. 99); and the oft-published but uncommon landscape by Wolf Huber (no. 100), all in Cleveland. Fine examples from Netherlandish artists encompass Hans Bol, Paul Bril, Hendrik Goltzius, Maerten van Heemskerk, Roelant Savery and Jan van der Straet (nos. 7, 11, 23, 26, 38, 46). The catalogue also includes a handful of Swiss sheets (nos. 130-137), a few French examples (primarily portraits; nos. 116-127), and two Spanish ornament drawings (nos. 128-129). Stretching the parameters of the sixteenth century, the authors also include works by artists usually considered to be active in the seventeenth century, such as Abraham Bloemaert (nos. 3-6) and Nicolas Lagneau (no. 122). The volume’s ambitious breadth succeeds in presenting a host of unknown and unpublished works, such as Virgil Solis’s Bathsheba from the Arkansas Art Center (no. 104). Unfortunately, its usefulness as a scholarly catalogue ends there.
Expressly written as a permanent legacy to the international scholarly community, this volume purports to present up-to-date bibliography, identification of watermarks, translated inscriptions, explication of iconography, and literature. Many short inscriptions are written out. However, in one case, a charming and complex allegory by an anonymous late sixteenth- century German artist (no. 113), which includes a lengthy inscription in the vernacular, the author chose to summarize it in his text – leading a skeptic to wonder whether it was ever truly transcribed. As for the biographies with selected bibliographies in the cases of well-known artists, such as Albrecht Altdorfer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, and Jan van Scorel, the bibliographies are scant and hardly current; these authors clearly relied on introductory anthologies like The Dictionary of Art and Thieme-Becker. Most worrying are cases where recent catalogues of drawings exist but are not referenced, for example in the case of Jan Gossart (2010), Abraham Bloemaert (2007), and Jan van der Straet (1997; 2008).
Equally troubling is the wealth of technical information regarding medium, support, and condition. Nowhere does the text refer to any paper conservator who can verify this very complicated information, often only discovered through scientific analysis. During the sixteenth century black chalk is often used in conjunction with graphite and is very hard to distinguish, but a sheet by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch (no. 10) is said to be the only work in the volume made with that medium, which, it is claimed, was not available until later in the century.
Although connoisseurship has a long pedigree, the field of Northern drawings has historically been underappreciated in America, excluding works produced by Dürer and his immediate contemporaries. As a result, many of our public collections do not house large collections of works by these often extremely talented draughtsmen, which makes it understandably difficult to train the eye. As an area with few specialists, it is reasonable that this corpus volume was written by individuals – in many cases students – who do not specialize in Northern drawings, with the unfortunate result, however, that many of the attributions (surely the central goal of this corpus) are incorrect. The authors seemingly did not consult curators at many of these institutions. Stijn Alsteens’s recent review of this volume in Master Drawings (volume LI, no. 1, 2013) notes many misattributions, including the cover image, ascribed to Georg Becham but clearly by Johann König, the seventeenth-century follower of Hans Rottenhammer, who executed a painting of the same subject (Private Collection).
The volume is at times inconsistent and badly edited, but it does include useful collection and provenance indexes that should lead to further, more rigorous investigations of these important Midwestern drawings collections.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art