After long domination by Dürer’s Nuremberg in art history, Augsburg at last is getting its scholarly due. The first signs appeared with the burst of research on Jôrg Breu by both Pia Cuneo (1998) and Andrew Morrall (2001), and Augsburg also loomed large in the massive exhibition, Renaissance Venice and the North (1999). Now a full-scale, well researched, attractively produced volume on Hans Holbein the Elder restores Augsburg’s godfather figure to his rightful place in German art around the turn of the sixteenth century. The senior painter can finally be appreciated for something other than his parenthood of Hans Holbein the Younger. The other Augsburg Hans – Burgkmair – also receives consideration in comparisons.
A generation ago Holbein the Elder enjoyed a flurry of attention in the monograph by Norbert Lieb and Alfred Stange (1960; same publisher!) as well as in an accompanying exhibition in Augsburg (1965), followed by Bruno Bushart’s study (1987). This larger new monograph by Krause, professor at Philipps-University, Marburg, builds upon those firm foundations. She considers all media and subjects by this versatile master: manuscript illuminations, drawings in ink and metalpoint, icon panels, large-scale retables, and portraits. Her organization is roughly chronological, but her approach remains flexible, dictated by the works themselves. She certainly is not committed either to a notion of a singular genius or even to his being some passive ‘reflection’ of a transition period (medieval to Renaissance, Catholic to Lutheran). Holbein the Elder, however, often is marked by his interaction with the art of others, including engraver Israhel van Meckenem and Netherlandish painters, and his ongoing rivalry and response to Burgkmair are also topics with their own segments. This study is not a traditional life-and-works or catalogued distinction between master and studio. Instead, Krause explores contexts of both production (especially with preparatory drawings) and consumption, including local guild and artistic competition as well as collaborations, often lost in such monographs.
Holbein the Elder was primarily a painter, chiefly creating Catholic images in a prosperous imperial city that would adopt the Reformation in 1537. Krause draws connections to prior art in Augsburg as well as neighboring Ulm, especially Zeitblom (though these latter links are more scattered) and persuasively claims early Holbein designs for some undated lower Rhenish prints of Meckenem, including the ‘Marienleben’ and Apostles series and two-sheet Mass of St. Gregory. In a confident, contemporary voice she interprets the Netherlandish connection to a culminating training experience (like Breu as well as Dürer), perhaps aligned with the Augsburg commercial network in Bruges, rather than a romantic notion of a ‘wandering apprentice.’ She is often quite contextual, especially in a section localizing the portraits, drawings and paintings, as documents of Augsburg.
While a concluding section considers Holbein’s treatment of religious art within a wider context, perhaps the most stimulating and original discussion involves style choices for Holbein. Krause does not consider the ‘welsch’, or Italianate style, whether Renaissance or antique (related to Peutinger’s ancient ‘Augusta’), to be an inevitability, and she credits Burgkmair with much of its absorption by the older master. The pic-torial rhetoric of using the novel for the sacred doubtless gradually acquired momentum by the teens. Earlier, however, Holbein often imported a Netherlandish idiom, probably prized by his patrons, who associated it with Burgundian luxury and cultural prestige-as well as the marital alliance forged by Emperor Maximilian, powerful patron and favorite of Augsburghers.
This kind of sophisticated analysis builds upon the ground sketched by Morrall for Breu and promises much for the consideration of early sixteenth century Augsburg and a wider German visual culture. Krause’s book is filled with such observations as well as particulars concerning individual works, such as the painted Passion cycles (there is no catalogue, though there is a chronology). This attractive and intelligent volume deserves the attention of all scholars of the period and region.
University of Pennsylvania