The organisers of this superb exhibition are to be congratulated. This first monographic show devoted to the German painter and draughtsman Hans Rottenhammer (1564-1625) took place in Lemgo (where seen by the present writer) and Prague and offered the unique opportunity to enjoy a careful selection of high-quality paintings and drawings. The exhibition catalogue will remain indispensable for any future study of the artist.
Almost a hundred years have passed since Rudolf Peltzer’s seminal article on Rottenhammer (1916). Harry Schlichtenmeier’s 1988 dissertation includes a wealth of information on the artist and a catalogue raisonné though unfortunately was never published in an illustrated book format. In the absence of an illustrated compendium, Rottenhammer’s name consequently became one of the ‘dustbins’ for small paintings on copper variously attributed to him.
The exhibition catalogue is neatly divided into two even parts, the first half consisting of nine essays, the second of one hundred catalogue entries. One of the major merits of the publication is that it is lavishly illustrated, mostly in color, often with the addition of beautiful full-page details of astonishing quality. However, the downside of the sheer number of images, some of which are duplicated (dispensable in the present writer’s view), is that many illustrations are stamp sized. The editors chose to cite references in brackets within the text and omit footnotes altogether. While it can be rather refreshing not to be distracted by lengthy discussions in notes, the lack of measurements for all works not included in the catalogue is irritating, especially in Rottenhammer’s case as his paintings show a considerable range of size. The catalogue entries include transcriptions of signatures and inscriptions, short provenances and a basic bibliography for each work. An indication of the objects shown at only one of the venues would have been welcome. A useful index rounds off the publication.
The book opens with essays by Heiner Borggrefe, Beverly Louise Brown and Bernard Aikema charting the biography of the artist and his sojourn in Rome and Venice respectively. Rottenhammer was born in Munich, probably in 1564. After an apprenticeship with Hans Donauer he left for Italy. He is documented in Treviso, where he possibly stayed with Lodewijk Toeput (Ludovico Pozzoserrato), in 1589. Rottenhammer settled in Venice in 1591, perhaps working with Pauwels Franck (Paolo Fiammingo), and left for Rome in 1594/95. As previously proposed by Justus Müller Hofstede (1983), two drawings after ancient sculpture (cats. 4, 5; also Lubomír Konečný’s essay: Rottenhammer and Antiquity) are identified as gifts from Rottenhammer to Elsheimer (who is said to subsequently have given these to Rubens). However, Joachim Jacoby has convincingly shown that the inscription on theverso of cat. 5 is not by Elsheimer (J. Jacoby, Die Zeichnungen von Adam Elsheimer. Kritischer Katalog, Frankfurt: Städel Museum, 2008, pp. 232-236; published only after the present catalogue went to press).
In Rome Rottenhammer probably stayed with the Flemish painter and dealer Anthonis Santvoort, an assumption supported by Lothar Sickel’s (Bibliotheca Hertziana, Rome) recent discovery in the archives of a hitherto unknown document (to be published). The inventory of Santvoort’s estate (Rome 1600) lists an Ecce Homo by Rottenhammer together with a copy after the same painting (for Rottenhammer’s paintings of this subject, none of which seems to be identical with the Santvoort one, see cat. 27 and figs. 136, 137) which Rottenhammer may have painted in Santvoort’s workshop, where the dealer ran a clearly flourishing business in copies. Rottenhammer also met Paul Bril and Jan Brueghel the Elder in Rome; he was to collaborate with both on small scale copper paintings for years to come. Since this phenomenon of independent artists joining forces to execute single paintings was a novelty in the 1590s, an entire essay on the subject would have been welcome; it is addressed in Eckehard Deichsel’s discussion of Rottenhammer’s painting technique (see also exhibition review by Luuk Pijl: The Burlington Magazine 150, 2008, pp. 783-784).
Rottenhammer was back in Venice in 1595 and worked there until 1606 when he returned to Germany and settled in Augsburg. Both Andrew John Martin’s contribution on Rottenhammer’s patrons and collectors and Thomas Fusenig’s essay on his ‘influence’ demonstrate the extent of the artist’s remarkable reputation in Rome, Venice and northern Europe. Rottenhammer was also active as an agent and was probably involved in Rudolf II’s acquisition of Dürer’s Madonna of the RosaryRottenhammer’s compositions were sought after and widely distributed in paintings and prints. Fusenig highlights his particular importance for Antwerp cabinet painters such as Hendrick van Balen and Frans Francken the Younger. In Augsburg Rottenhammer received many important commissions; he increasingly abandoned cabinet painting, producing instead large altarpieces and compositions for secular interiors as well as designs for gold- and silversmiths, as Michael Bischoff demonstrates in his essay.
Arguably the most important part of the catalogue, and certainly the most surprising part of the exhibition, is devoted to Rottenhammer’s drawings. The essay by Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann and Heiner Borggrefe puts the draughtsman Rottenhammer on the map and shows the variety of forms and techniques he employed. Their contribution hopefully will inspire further study in this neglected field. To add just one point, a drawing in the National Gallery of Scotland (D 1746) listed as a copy in reverse after Rottenhammer’s fabulous painting Rape of the Sabines (cat. 24) is in fact an offset of a drawing worked up with pen and ink. The large sheet, which bears an autograph inscription ‘Rottnham…’ on the verso, was folded four times (probably to be sent with a letter) and may have been intended for a print.
One would wish that the contributors to the catalogue could join forces to produce a complete monograph on Hans Rottenhammer. Until such a publication appears, the exhibition catalogue will remain the standard reference on the artist, augmented by the useful volume of essays, frequently referred to in the catalogue: H. Borggrefe et al.(eds.), Hans Rottenhammer (1564-1625): Ergebnisse des in Kooperation mit dem Institut für Kunstgeschichte der Tschechischen Akademie der Wissenschaften durchgeführten Internationalen Symposions am Weserrenaissance-Museum Schloß Brake (17.-18. February 2007), Marburg: Jonas Verlag, 2007.
Christian Tico Seifert
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh