Some later moments of German art history seem forever viewed out of peripheral vision. One particular and crucial moment is the so-called ‘Frankenthal School’ at the turn of the seven-teenth century. A useful 1995 catalogue in Frankenthal itself, authored by Edgar Hürkey, made a substantial contribution to our understanding, as have the several publications by Margaretha Krämer. This new book makes a focused addition to our awareness of the primary materials of the Palatine region, publishing a suite of engravings by Matthäus Merian (26 images) entitled “Schwalbach Journey,” eventually filled out to a full series on the region (1631). The motivation for this handsomely produced publication is a civic celebration, the 650th anniversary of Bad Schwalbach.
According to the title page of Merian’s series the prints were based upon drawings of around 1615 (and thus before the depredations of the Thirty Years’ War) by one “Antonium Miruleum,” who can be identified with a Flemish painter, Anton Mirou (1578-1627?). These drawings, many (15) in Budapest, have been published with their comparative engravings by Diefenbacher, offering a contribution to scholarship as well as a nostalgic documentary piece of local history. Indeed, many of these drawings invite comparison with the Small Landscapes series, engraved and published in Antwerp (1559/61) by Hieronymus Cock. This model and more contemporary publications (especially in Haarlem and Amsterdam) of country views, organized around the theme of a ‘journey,’ are well discussed by Diefenbacher, just as in recent book-length studies by Levesque and Gibson. Moreover, this utilization of drawn views by a peripatetic, emigré Flemish painter for the prints of a professional view-maker finds its precedent in the country-side and civic topographies of Georg Hoefnagel as realized by Braun and Hogenberg in Cologne (1571-1618).
Diefenbacher’s careful scholarship helps to restore a core of drawings to the relatively less familiar Mirou, whose Protestant leanings led to his exile from Antwerp and appearance by 1586 at Frankenthal, where he would work alongside the more renowned Gillis van Coninxloo. The author also provides a fine biography and overview of the Frankenthal circle, as well as color images and discussions of the most secure landscape paintings by the artist as well as other drawings. Most of his works date to a period (as Plietzsch first noted in 1910) between 1602-19, now extended only slightly (1599-1621).
The wider context of these Mirou drawings is well provided by Diefenbacher, who adduces contemporary study drawings of forest details by Roelant Savery and other views images by Paul Bril as engraved by Merian. Indeed, Merian’s output becomes more intriguing as a result of this study, sending the reader back to the extended publications of Lucas Heinrich Wüthrich (1966-96) and reminding us that some Merian views of this kind were also published by Claes Jansz. Visscher in Amsterdam (1620-24), discussed briefly by Walter Gibson in Pleasant Places (2000). Taken together, we begin to realize anew how fecund and wide-ranging was the exchange between German and Netherlandish art in this period (beyond the usual, high-end connections to the Prague of Rudolf II), particularly in this field of print publishing and views. In sum, this is a valuable case study, which opens up both larger issues and international connections, beginning with the Frankenthal group but extending to the very origins and meaning of country scenes in series.
University of Pennsylvania