Almost two decades have elapsed since the last large-scale exhibition devoted to this subject: the joint presentation of museums in Philadelphia and Boston: The Prints of Lucas van Leyden and his Contemporaries, edited by Ellen Jacobowitz and Stephanie Loeb Stepanek (Washington: National Gallery, 1983). In the meantime quite a lot of important scholarship on the artist has appeared, including the authoritative new Hollstein volume of 1996, edited by the magisterial Jan Piet Filedt Kok, as well as such landmarks as the 1992 catalogue of Lucas’s paintings by Elise Lawton Smith and the 1994 discussion of the artist by Peter Parshall in his joint publication with David Landau The Renaissance Print 1470-1550.
What this catalogue does is to synthesize the state of our knowledge about Lucas van Leyden with the discerning eye of a print curator as well as with the attentive curiosity of a thorough bibliographer who has an interest in interpretive issues as well as formal ones. The organisation of this catalogue is particularly useful, running against the grain of the Hollstein volume by organizing prints chronologically, instead of using the thematic structure of the Bartsch numbers, and providing short introductions to each of the technical and stylistic phases of the artist’s developments. Prints are reproduced in actual size where possible, and a clear and most useful appendix catalogue of watermarks with photographs will complement the Hollstein volume (as will the concordance between the two lists of prints).
As with the Jacobowitz-Stepanek catalogue, Lucas’s contemporaries do not receive the systematic treatment of the more renowned master of the period. This is particularly frustrating in the case of Lucas’s sometime collaborator and productive contemporary, Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen, whose woodcuts have always been underappreciated relative to the peintre-graveur celebration of Lucas’s virtuoso individual work; indeed, there has not been a serious study of the entire oeuvre of this Amsterdam master since Kurt Steinbart (1937 [!]), so a study is long overdue (as is a reprint of the definitive catalogue of Dutch woodcuts by Wouter Nijhoff from 1933-39). For all of our alleged progress in thinking holistically about print culture in the early modern Netherlands and Germany, this is still a collecting and publishing field dominated by the older, nineteenth-century thinking of Bartsch.
What this catalogue contains, however, is a current state of our knowledge about all of the engravings (albeit none of the woodcuts) of Lucas van Leyden. Matile’s synthesis of scholarship is perceptive and penetrating. He characterizes the artist as the first peintre-graveur in the Low Countries, and he indicates the importance in this first era of marketing individual style (including unusual narrative presentations) of the distinctive hand of the engraver. He offers a useful comparison and contrasts with Dürer, commenting on the greater interest by Lucas in Old Testament subjects and a relatively low attention to myths and ornaments as subjects before the last period, 1527-31. He notes the dialogue with roundel glass painting, a medium for which Lucas was praised in his century, and makes good use of the important 1995 Cloisters exhibition by Timothy Husband, The Luminous Image. He also calls our attention to the frames (sometimes with texts) often added to Lucas’s series prints (which in the case of woodcuts bear comparison to other German models, specifically Burgkmair. This dialogue is not explored here, or elsewhere for that matter, though it would be important for the next generation, e.g. Cornelis Anthonisz.). The introduction concludes with a thoughtful discussion of Lucas’s posthumous fame and his important position in early collections, as well as the copies and imitations of his works by the Goltzius circle at the end of the sixteenth century.
In sum, this is a most intelligent and illuminating survey of Lucas’s remarkable output, probably the most useful single volume for the scholar’s own bookshelf (who can afford the Hollstein series, however desirable?).
University of Pennsylvania