Over the past two decades and under the leadership of George Goldner, the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Drawings and Prints has built up its holdings in areas that were previously underrepresented, one of these being the Central European Renaissance and Baroque. This catalogue of a 2012 exhibition marks two decades of drawings acquisitions, bringing together new material with drawings that came to the museum earlier in its history. The earlier acquisitions represented here are significant. They include five Dürer drawings, among them the 1493 self-portrait – four of these as well as drawings by Hans Baldung, Hans Schwarz, and Sebald Beham come from the Lehman Collection; Dürer’s painting of Christ as Salvator Mundi, included for its visible underdrawing; two Aldegrever pen drawings for prints; and an Altdorfer drawing on prepared paper, which was purchased by the museum in 1906.
Of the recent acquisitions, some are by artists active in the wake of Dürer in Nuremberg: Peter Flötner, Virgil Solis, Wenzel Jamnitzer, and Jost Amman; other sheets are by contemporaries working in Switzerland, such as Urs Graf, Tobias Stimmer, Daniel Lindtmayr, and Christoph Murer. Further groups of drawings represent the court patronage of the Wittelsbach dynasty in Munich and Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. The internationalism of these courts creates a little confusion over nationalities. The German and Swiss artists working at Rudolf’s court are included, although the Netherlanders are not. However, the same rationale is not applied to the Munich court, of which the key figures represented are Friedrich Sustris and Pieter Candid (painters of Dutch and Flemish descent and of Florentine artistic formation).
Among the seventeenth-century drawings are works by Nicolaus Knüpfer, Jacob Marrel, Wenceslaus Hollar, and Joachim von Sandrart. Finally, interspersed with works from ca. 1600 and later are representative Stammbuch, Turnierbuch, and Thesenblatt drawings. Broad coverage of this material is still unusual in North America: a generation ago, the only comparable collection belonged to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.
This publication is not a full catalogue of the museum’s Central European drawings but rather a selection that was chosen for exhibition: 110 individual drawings and one bound tournament book [in the exhibition, Stammbuch drawings were shown with their albums]. The research is meticulous and reflects the expertise of curators from the Departments of Drawings and Prints and Arms and Armor, as well as the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s German Paintings Curator, Guido Messling. Metropolitan Museum conservators Maryan Ainsworth and Marjorie Shelley were also brought into this project: Ainsworth provides an essay on Dürer’s Salvator Mundi, and Shelley examines several drawings; her broader findings will be published separately. Finally, in line with the Metropolitan Museum’s production standards, the catalogue is lavishly illustrated in color.
While the attributions of the drawings are generally well established, a few venture onto new ground. The drawings connected with Monogrammist AW and Hans Werl (cat. nos. 39, 54) help to define these South German artists. Werl worked alongside Friedrich Sustris and Pieter Candid in Munich, and his oeuvre could be expanded further. A third case is the drawing of the Standing Virgin in Mourning, connected with Monogrammist G.Z., a designer of woodcuts active in the Upper Rhine region around 1520 (cat. 17). On my visit to the exhibition, I was struck by the immaculate condition of the paper and ink and by the skewed angle of the Virgin’s halo, set against a blank ground that in its flatness creates a spatial tension with the foreshortened halo.
An often unresolved issue in drawings research concerns the intended purposes of drawings, for in workshop traditions they had multiple functions. Much literature on sixteenth-century Central European drawings, most notably the exhibition catalogue, Painting on Light, co-authored by Barbara Butts and Lee Hendrix (Malibu and St. Louis, 2000-2001), has drawn attention to Scheibenrisse, drawings for stained glass. As a result, painted glass production is often the first hypothesis posed in connection with certain, very detailed Swiss and South German drawings, in which passages with distinct tonal ranges and unshaded areas are clearly outlined (see for example, cat. nos. 19, 22, 32, 44-48, 58); this is especially the case with roundels. In the exhibition catalogue, ExtravagAnt! A Forgotten Chapter of Antwerp Painting, 1500-1530 (Antwerp and Maastricht, 2005-2006), Peter van den Brink noted that “round model sheets . . . were not necessarily intended for one specific final product [i.e., decorated glass], but rather as vidimus with many possibilities, depending on the client’s wishes.” (p. 112). The authors of the present catalogue have identified various kinds of objects for which drawings provided figural decorations (e.g., nos. 23, 42-44, 49, 68), and my comments by no means identify a weakness of this catalogue but rather a common supposition that needs to be examined. So many decorative trades flourished across Renaissance and Baroque Central Europe – from medals, book illustrations, art cabinets, and portable altars, like those discussed in this catalogue; to jewelry and larger metalwork objects; painted furniture, shutters and façades; ornamental wood- and ivory carvings; embroidery, and so on – that artists’ designs could be replicated in multiple forms.
Dürer and Beyond is an attractive publication, and it is a record of intensive collection building and of sound and current research in Renaissance and Baroque drawings. However, is it the most useful form for the furtherance of knowledge, particularly in this digital age – or would those needs be better served by an online catalogue of the museum’s entire holdings in Central European drawings? If institutions like the Metropolitan Museum made the transition to digital media, they would transform collections catalogues and catalogues raisonnés themselves, bringing those forms of scholarship into line with the fluid realities of collecting and monograph development. Further, an interlocking network of such catalogues, shared with other institutions and scholars, could bring us farther in finding relationships between works that are now widely dispersed: a particular problem in the study of drawings. And finally, access to full collections online might revitalize the field of drawings scholarship and attract more students to a field that seems to draw fewer, year by year.
St. Lawrence University