The exhibition at the Graphische Sammlung, Munich, dedicated to Augsburg printmaker Daniel Hopfer (c.1470-1536) reveals the field’s fresh appreciation for artists formerly perceived as ‘derivative,’ as well as for neglected centers of production like sixteenth-century Augsburg. Modern preferences for originality have relegated Hopfer to the role of chief ‘plagiarizer’ for his etched copies of German and Italian prints, even though he has been credited as the ‘inventor’ of the printed etching. His often ragged etched line has been criticized for lacking the elegance of a Dürer engraving, and his aptitude for ornament has left him unfairly marginalized in the literature. Yet after monographic exhibitions on Master E.S. (1986), Martin Schongauer (1991), and Israhel van Meckenem (2003) at the Graphische Sammlung, Hopfer at last takes his deserved place as a Renaissance master among the most important early German printmakers.
Hopfer was clearly successful, as his tax records reveal. He moved to increasingly exclusive neighborhoods, received a coat of arms from Emperor Charles V, and was buried honorably in Augsburg Cathedral. His work appears in distinguished sixteenth-century inventories (e.g., of humanist Conrad Peutinger, Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand, and Ferdinand Columbus), and his sturdy iron plates permitted posthumous re-printings (notably by David Funck in 1684 and Carl Wilhelm Silberberg in 1802). The Munich catalogue restores Hopfer to his historical prominence and offers a new catalogue raisonné to supplant the Hollstein volume of 1986. This richly illustrated catalogue now fully displays Hopfer’s technical mastery of the etching medium, while it also offers a more complete picture of Hopfer’s work in other materials, such as gouache, woodcut book illustration, and etched armor design. This catalogue successfully brackets the imponderable questions that have dominated Hopfer scholarship – about the origins of etching and the likelihood of a trip to Italy – to shift discussion to more productive issues: Hopfer’s use of the etching technique, his dissemination of styles and motifs (Renaissance and otherwise), and the esteem accorded to artistic imitation.
Christof Metzger’s impressive catalogue begins with four essays, each about a different aspect of Hopfer’s career: his drawings, his relationship to the armor industry, and his role as head of a workshop with a legacy evident in the business-savvy careers of his copyist sons Lambert and Hieronymus. In his opening essay, Metzger himself presents what we really know about Hopfer’s career. The author discovered in Bologna an unpublished Hopfer etching plausibly identified as the Battle of Thérouanne (Aug. 7, 1479) – remarkably signed with full name in the plate and dated largely on stylistic grounds to c.1493, making this perhaps the earliest known etching on paper. This new work, suitably showing the young Archduke Maximilian’s first decisive military victory over the French, confirms our presumptions about Hopfer: he was making printed etchings by 1500, well before Dürer and his own securely dated etchings during the second decade of the 1500s.
Dating and chronology, however, continue to be unresolved issues with Hopfer’s printed oeuvre. Though often marked with a recognizable DH monogram and the pinecone emblem of Augsburg, only six prints bear dates, at least one of which (Tabernacle of the Adler Family [H.28]) may refer to the dedication date of the object portrayed, rather than the date of the etching itself. While the Bologna print is an exciting find and does seem to pre-date 1500, it nonetheless renews questions about the wisdom of assigning dates solely on stylistic grounds for an artist who seems particularly adept at deploying different styles, depending on the model imitated or the subject and audience addressed. If anything, the catalogue visibly demonstrates the astounding range of Hopfer’s manner, which encompasses gothic vine tendrils, Italianate grotesques, line etching, dark ground dot patterns (the so-called ‘Hopfer style’), and which includes copies after Andrea Mantegna, Marcantonio Raimondi, and Lucas Cranach, among others.
Essays by Achim Riether and Freyda Spira show Hopfer’s link to other media: preparatory drawings and etched armor, respectively. On one hand, Hopfer is portrayed as representative of craftsmen at the time. His workshop practices (sons Lambert and Hieronymus are the subject of a fourth essay by Tobias Güthner) also involved collaborations with a number of sculptors, goldsmiths, book publishers, and armorers. Even his deep knowledge of all’ antica and Italianate motifs (from prints, medals, armor, paintings) are properly set within the context of Augsburg, a city with trading ties to Italy and with a number of other artists working in a Renaissance style similar to Hopfer.
On the other hand, the reader is left with a clear picture of Hopfer’s artistic distinctiveness. The extent of his network with metalworkers and armorers, the city’s prominent humanists, and the imperial court surpasses that of standard craftsmen. His vast knowledge of visual sources may stem from conventional training, but his awareness of the print medium as suitable for translating designs into new form, and his development of a market for them, seems utterly modern. In that business sense, he is the true successor of Israhel van Meckenem, matched only by his contemporaries Hans Burgkmair and Albrecht Dürer. Whereas etching has been characterized as a ‘false start’ for figures like Burgkmair and Dürer, this catalogue makes clear that for Hopfer etching remained a central activity to which he was singularly committed, even when he was working with other media or collaborating with other artists.
Contributors to the catalogue convey Hopfer’s technical mastery, from his line-work etchings to the dot-patterned silhouetted backgrounds that required at least two bitings in acid. Still worth considering is how and why Hopfer’s labor-intensive engagement with etching – as ‘inventor,’ copier, designer, and purveyor of artistic taste – was so successful, even though ultimately it would not define the medium’s worth among artists (especially painters) or among collectors, who instead would come to value etching as an expressive outlet of artistic virtuosity not unlike drawing (Michael Cole, ed., The Early Modern Painter-Etcher, 2006).
The nature of copying so central to Hopfer’s artistic practice is most effectively illustrated in the weighty catalogue section, where one can see images of a range of sources for Hopfer’s prints, drawings, and armor designs in individual catalogue entries. However, the format of the catalogue – with written entries and comparative material in a separate section from Hopfer’s images (which are out of order and follow Hollstein’s system instead) – hinders easy use and requires frequent back-and-forth page-turning. Despite these drawbacks of format, the catalogue information improves considerably upon Hollstein by updating the literature, transcribing full inscriptions, providing accurate plate dimensions, and identifying all of the printing campaigns of Hopfer’s plates. This information is directed to print specialists, who also will appreciate the extensive addenda on watermarks, concordances with Bartsch and Hollstein volumes, and archival sources relating to the artist.
This impressive catalogue will remain a crucial reference on Hopfer for years to come, but also may be a springboard for further publications on central issues of the period that Hopfer’s career so beautifully represents: prints as a medium and technology for translating Renaissance style and motifs; cross-fertilization among prints, sculpture, painting, and armor; fluid boundaries between copying, artistic imitation, and early modern views of authorship and mastery; and the suitability of etching to meet the expectations of a changing society. More attention is needed on the artist’s presumed audience(s) and the market for his work, and on situating him in a social, Reformation, and political context. However, this catalogue will remain valuable in presenting Hopfer as a figure perched between the medieval and modern periods, as both craftsman and artist, and as creative copyist and resourceful innovator. No longer will Daniel Hopfer be discounted as merely ‘derivative.’
Ashley D. West