At around age 22, as Karel van Mander tells us, Hans von Aachen left his native Cologne for Venice and offered his assistance to the artist Gaspar Rem, only to be mocked as a provincial who surely couldn’t paint. Through the gift to Rem of a self-portrait, von Aachen transformed the haughty Netherlander into an admirer who even took it upon himself to prepare his assistant’s canvases. Von Aachen’s career would take him far beyond Rem, beginning with an altarpiece for the Church of the Gesù, followed by engagements at the courts of Florence and Munich, and finally a richly paid position lasting 23 years, in the service of the Habsburg emperor, Rudolf II. His delicate and lively portraiture and his inventive mannerist allegories found wide favor among patrons, collectors and artists. Jacoby’s earlier New Hollstein monograph on this artist identified over one hundred reproductive prints after his inventions [see the review of that book in the HNA Newsletter, vol. 15, no. 2 (November, 1998), pp. 23-24].
Work on that volume clearly helped to build the oeuvre catalogue which appears in this publication. The catalogue of 103 paintings dominates the book and is rich in references to related drawings and to reproductive prints of both extant and lost works. As a comprehensive catalogue, it fills a gap in the literature on von Aachen. The first significant study was Rudolf Peltzer’s lengthy article (in the JKSAK, 1911-12) which gave a wide-ranging picture of von Aachen’s career in artistic centers of Italy, South Germany and Prague. More recent publications, including those of Helena Kusáková, Rüdiger an der Heiden, Eliska Fucíková and Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, have deepened our understanding of von Aachen’s role as a leading artist at the Wittelsbach and Rudolfine courts. Finally, for many years, Dr. Fucíková has been at work on a monograph which should be a richly contextualized and interpretative study of von Aachen’s drawings and paintings. In the meantime, this latest contribution is a handbook of the paintings, with many thoughtul discussions of their artistic references and symbolism.
This book should be most useful when consulted in conjunction with the above-mentioned publications on Hans von Aachen. As a catalogue of von Aachen’s painted work, it gives a succinct overview of his career, but does not presume to cover the rich artistic environments in which von Aachen was working in the same depth as earlier studies. Further, the catalogue’s organization, by an alphabetical list of subject categories, does not give the reader a sense of von Aachen’s development as an artist or his influences on contemporaries and followers. To do so would require more engagement with unresolved questions of the relative dating of many paintings. Finally, the varying quality of the color reproductions, and the choice of some workshop pieces or copies (e.g. cat. nos. 96, 102) for prominent illustration make it desirable for a reader new to this artist to look at plates in other recent literature. The best reflections of von Aachen’s chiaroscuro and chromatic range are found on the cover and in color plates 5, 9, 13, 16 and 27.
That said, the research involved in this book is meticulous and valuable. It should be a lasting contribution to the literature on Central European Art around 1600.
St. Lawrence University