If we consult received wisdom (I used Giulia Bartrum’s reliable survey, German Renaissance Prints 1490-1550, 1995), we find several accepted facts about Georg Pencz (vital statistics given, c. 1500-50). Among other claims: he probably trained with Dürer and possibly collaborated on the Nuremberg town hall paintings after Dürer designs in 1521; he probably visited northern Italy c. 1528-29, just before his earliest prints and paintings; he was appointed official painter to the city of Nuremberg; and he made a second trip to Italy in 1539-40, but designed an arch for the triumphal entry of Emperor Charles V into Nuremberg in February 1541. If we now consult the scrupulous research of Katrin Dyballa, we find that almost all of these claims can be challenged, and some of them are demonstrably false.
Other truisms remain however. Pencz’s most accomplished paintings are large-scale portraits, and he made an impressive illusionistic ceiling painting, a Fall of Phaeton (1534). His 125 engravings, usually grouped among the “Little Masters,” included some of the earliest Old Testament series (but are not re-evaluated in this study of paintings and drawings). Pencz died en route to Leipzig, where he went to take up appointment as court painter to Duke Albrecht I of Saxony.
This richly illustrated and handsomely produced volume is another in the distinguished series from Deutscher Kunstverlag, following milestone monographs, catalogues with documents about Germain painters: Cranach (Friedländer and Rosenberg, 1932); Schongauer (Buchner, 1941); Dürer (Anzelewsky, 1971; 1991); Baldung (von der Osten, 1983); and Schäufelein (Metzger, 2002). This volume takes its place in that essential sequence.
Dyballa is rigorous with archival sources, and this book is definitive about using documents to how Nuremberg compensated painters in the early sixteenth century. However, on purely visual grounds, she remains skeptical about almost any previous connections to Italian painting and firmly rejects hypotheses about any Italian trip (something that defies the Phaeton ceiling’s significance). She dismisses in turn all visual comparisons advanced by previous scholars, particularly by Nina Carolin Wiesner about the Hirsvogel ceiling (2004) and by Hans Georg Gmelin earlier, preferring instead looser links to German façade designs. Dyballa denies that the chosen wooden support holds any information about country of origin (though many conservators still argue otherwise). Finding no documented connection to Dürer, she detaches Pencz from his previously alleged participation on the Nuremberg city hall murals. She finds that Hans Plattner had better claim to be called city painter, though Pencz was paid by the city in 1532 and drafted designs for Nuremberg’s fortifications in 1542.
More positively, Dyballa provides strong evidence in dry modeling and figure types for identifying the young Pencz as the same engraver as an anonymous Master IB, a hypothesis first advanced by Friedländer in 1897 but debated ever since. IB was active in the 1520s, whereas Pencz’s printmaker career followed soon afterwards. The difference between them, other than increasing mastery by Pencz, is the orthography of monograms, where Iörg becomes Georg and Bentz becomes Pencz, perhaps at the time that he was hired by the city fathers in 1532.
Dyballa gives proper attention to Nuremberg portraiture, turning away from the obvious Dürer foundations to later, less familiar masters, such as Hans Brosamer and Hans Plattner. Pencz’s likenesses of Nuremburg citizens are nicely delineated by Dyballa, who points out how these enlarged portraits bring a new dynamism. In the 1530s only Barthel Beham conveys the same powerful corporeality and modeling, and in his more ambitious portraits Pencz variously turns his half-length, close-up, seated figures and their gazes, often placing them with strong modeling and limited color range within elaborate interior corner spaces. Gesturing hands and fixed stares compare chiefly with Netherlandish portraiture, while earlier claims (Baldass) that north Italian portraits provided a model are dismissed by Dyballa. During the 1540s affinities emerge with Christoph Amberger’s Augsburg portraits, already responding to Italian models.
Pencz also was one of the most active German artists to take up classical myths as subjects; here the absence of his print oeuvre (surveyed by David Landau, 1978, albeit without the IB oeuvre) limits perception concerning the range of his output. Most of these paintings stem from the 1540s, after an early Venus and Cupid (Berlin) and the Phaeton. Here Dyballa suggests that the painter is more open to foreign influences, though Barthel Beham still provides a nearby model at court in Munich, and Lucas Cranach painted many of these themes. Many subjects, as well as a pair of Judiths (1531; 1545), focus on powerful women exercising control: Cimon and Pero, Tomyris and Cyrus, and Lucretia. Pencz repeated several of these on multiple occasions. Most of these mature works (plus several meditating Jeromes) adhere to his successful portrait formula: large-scale, close-up half-length figures turn in space and gaze obliquely or directly at the viewer, to suggest a thoughtful purpose behind their actions. Their owners remain unknown. By contrast, the small-scale engravings, often viewed as narrative series, show full-length figures in twisting movement, often in profile, across the picture field.
Dyballa’s careful catalogue raisonné, which takes up half the volume, fully lives up to prior expectations of this series, Denkmäler deutscher Kunst. For each work she presents the support and condition of both sides, technical examinations (often with infrared photos and x-rays), provenance, and bibliography, with serious discussion. The publisher has been generous with illustrations and inserts a center color section of both paintings and drawings in color.
While some of her judgments about models will require rethinking by each future student of Pencz, particularly to evaluate the role of Italy as an influence (and the purported trip[s] southward), this volume firmly establishes itself as definitive regarding documents and artistic oeuvre. Serious Pencz students will want to address his engravings, using Landau’s catalogue and other studies about the Little Masters as a group (such as Bartrum or the outstanding 1988 catalogue, World in Miniature, by Stephen Goddard from the Spencer Museum, University of Kansas). But Dyballa has given us the reference work on Pencz as painter and draughtsman.
University of Pennsylvania