Fifth in a series of exemplary catalogues of the permanent collection of the Städel Institute in Frankfurt, this sumptuously produced volume follows two prior volumes by Jochen Sander of the Netherlandish and Italian pictures, and it complements an earlier volume of German paintings before 1500 by these same two collaborators. But this catalogue has true star appeal, featuring the most famous German artists, who make the Städel a pilgrimage site: Altdorfer, Baldung (3 works), Cranach (8 works of all periods and subjects), Dürer, Grünewald, both Holbeins. No serious art history research library should be without these indispensable Frankfurt volumes, especially this one.
Every individual entry includes meticulous presentation of data for a picture: dimensions, condition, technical information, description, provenance, scholarship history, and general discussion, which frequently includes thematic comparisons, other versions or copies, and the place of the image in the oeuvre of the artist in question. Some entries offer exemplary essays of important pictures or subjects. A good example is Baldung’s Weather Witches (1523), one of the rare paintings of this nefarious theme, so important to the artist in his drawings and so lastingly consequential for the period. But this extended discussion also places the striking pair of full-length nudes in contexts of female figures by Dürer and related imagery of both bathhouses and alchemy.
Also particularly strong is the rich range of Cranach pictures. These include traditional iconic images of the Virgin as well as post-Luther images of Madonna and Child or Christ among the Children. But a major full-length Cranach nude, Venus (1532), adds still more to the discussion of the nude in German art alongside Baldung’s witches.
Significant altarpieces or altarpiece components also adorn the Städel catalogue, in part derived from the Frankfurt Historisches Museum. These works generate informative, thoroughly researched, extended essays, including: Baldung’s St. John the Baptist Altarpiece (before 1520); Cranach’s Holy Kinship (1509); the Job fragment from Dürer’s Jabach Altarpiece (c. 1505, reconstructed); Grünewald’s grisaille wings from the top portion of the Heller Altarpiece (c. 1509/10; made for Frankfurt, reconstructed); and the complex wings and predella of Holbein the Elder’s Frankfurt Dominican altarpiece (1501). Four high quality panels from the Pullendorf Altarpiece by a master from the workshop of Zeitblom (Ulm, c. 1500), provide much needed modern scholarship.
To be sure, other wonderful conjunctions emerge as the arbitrary product of any fine collection. The Städel offers a particularly strong roster of portraits in good condition, presenting a miniature history of this kind of German painting: Barthel Beham’s moving juxtaposition of a father with his son (on fir, c. 1525; pendant in Philadelphia); Barthel Bruyn the Elder pendants of a named couple (c. 1540/45); a dated man (1559) by Bruyn the Younger; Cranach the Younger’s Melanchthon(1559); Dürer’s so-called “Katharina Fürlegerin” with hair down (1497); Holbein the Elder’s Weiss (1522); Holbein the Younger’s tondo of Simon George of Cornwall (ca. 1535/40); and a Wolf Traut (1501; pendant Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza). Frankfurt portrait painters and their local patrons are especially well represented: Hans II. Abel, Von Holzhausen pendants (1523); pendant full-length donor portraits (1504) from the exterior retable wings of the Stalburgs’ Hauskapelle; Martin Caldenbach Hess, Portrait of Jakob Stralenberger (1506). In particular, Conrad Faber von Creuznach is uniquely present as portraitist of many of the same Frankfurt family patrons, including pendants of Von Holzhausens (1535; 1529) and Stralenbergs (? c. 1545; 1526), plus his familiar Double Portrait of Justinian von Holzhausen(1536).
A good example of the critical and thoughtful revisionist scholarship of this volume, which refuses to accept received wisdom or repeated scholarly traditions is its Dürer portrait entry (pp. 273-87). The canvas support, date, monogram, and Fürleger heraldry are all duly noted, as are the six copies in various media, including an etching by Hollar (1646, with inscriptions). These copies also pair the Frankfurt image with a bound hair version of the same figure and coat of arms (Berlin). Of course here the scholarship history and basic questions hover around the identities of these two women (though sometimes copies have been taken as originals): same figure in different characterizations or sisters? The identification as “Katharina” begins in 1790 without evidence, adopted by Nagler in 1837 and reiterated amidst increasing scholarly contrasts between the two images, often calling one a saintlyportrait historié. Archival research (Gumbel, 1928) revealed no Fürleger daughters named Katharina in the late fifteenth century, but he also authenticated the family heraldry, though many open questions are evident still in the standard reference on paintings by Anzelewsky (1971, 2nd ed. 1991). Today the Berlin-Frankfurt pairing as Dürer originals is firmly established, and doubts about the inscriptions are allayed, at least allowing for condition issues of canvas. The best candidate for the sitter is Anna Fürleger, born in 1484 and died in childbirth in 1507, which would mean that the Frankfurt picture could not be identified as a nun, nor does her age in 1497 match well with this seemingly older sitter. While the Berlin image looks like a betrothal portrait (and Dürer’s contemporary Tucher pendants) and appears before a window, in contrast the Frankfurt likeness sits on a dark monochrome ground like a praying saint (Buchner found a model in Bellini). Brinkmann poses the hypothesis here that Dürer’s double representation might even have stemmed from a more personal motive, to memorialize a deceased younger sister of his own (two candidates, one [Agnes, b. 1479] perhaps portrayed in a Holbein the Elder drawing in Berlin, a close comparison).
A good entry like this one both resolves old debates and sparks new hypotheses. Brinkmann and Kemperdick bring admirable thoughtfulness and close inspection of all evidence to their assessments of each picture in this important collection, which deserves comparison to Nuremberg, Munich, and Berlin as a temple of great German painting.
University of Pennsylvania