The major 2010-11 exhibition, Hans von Aachen (1552-1615): A Court Artist in Europe generated widespread interest at its three venues (Aachen-Prague-Vienna) and occasioned an international conference in Prague, now published. The Art History Institute in Prague has been generating annual publications around the court patronage of Emperor Rudolf II, which now culminate in this volume. The leadership of that Institute under Lubomir Konecny deserves praise for cultivating serious scholarship in this important field since the path-breaking 1997 exhibition, Prague and Rudolf II. Von Aachen scholarship also starts at a high plateau with the catalogue raisonné of paintings by Joachim Jacoby (2003) and the fine exhibition catalogue essays, edited by Thomas Fusenig.
To review this volume, packed with contributions from thirty scholars – senior and junior, European and American – is no small task. Segments are organized around general headings, but these are arbitrary: Hans von Aachen and Italy; Interpreting Images; Patrons, Commissioners and Artists; Dissertations in Progress [sic]; and a concluding note from the dean of this material, Tom Kaufmann, “Vistas for Rudolfine Research.” Rather than attempt to summarize individual essays, I will try to focus on some recurrent preoccupations, often placed across the volume.
A good place to begin is self-portraits, so often informal and animated by laughter. Stephanie Dickey sees self-portraits as a genre in its own right and traces their characterization of the painter as “courtier and rogue” into a legacy adopted by Dutch artists, notably Rembrandt and Jan Steen. Following up more broadly on his own catalogue essay on Von Aachen’s social networks in Italy, Bernard Aikema appraises the young artist (1574-86) by focusing on those early effigies as demonstrations of versatility and of his status as a pictor doctus, conscious of classical theories of varying modes. Von Aachen thus demonstrates “an extraordinary range of both traditional and novel subjects, rendered in a great variety of pictorial styles, aptly combining elements taken from nature with those, deriving from other artists’ works and manners.” (26-27). The artist would maintain these virtuoso traits throughout his career.
A haunting presence for early Von Aachen is the drawing style in pen and wash of mythological and biblical themes by his Flemish mentor in Rome, Hans Speckaert. Appropriately, Speckaert provides the focus of Eliska Fuciková’s essay, and her student Eva Siroká gives an essay entirely to Speckaert’s Assumption of the Virgin (drawing, Morgan Library and Museum; engraving by Aegidius Sadeler; copper panel missing). Speckaert’s refined technique and elegant classical figures (represented well in the Budapest drawings cabinet) made a powerful impression on young Von Aachen around 1575. Siroká notes how often Speckaert drawings were copied later; both artists note how much of this manner emerged from Northerners associated in Rome with the welcoming workshop of Anthonis Santvoort. Another link that emerges between the lines is Flemish transplant Giambologna, whom Von Aachen painted (Douai; fig. 5a) and whose drawn portrait (Washington; fig. 5c) Fuciková reassigns to Von Aachen (from Joseph Heintz). This contact continues in a beautiful chalk portrait by Goltzius during his trip to Italy (1591; Haarlem, Teylers Museum). A sensitive reading of one Von Aachen drawing, Parting the Red Sea (Princeton), recto and sketched verso, considers both process and program.
Several major Von Aachen works make repeated appearances. Two scholars study Von Aachen’s Stuttgart Allegory of Rulership (Michael Niekel; Beket Bukovinská). The painting Allegory of Peace, Abundance, and the Arts (1602; St. Petersburg), cited by Van Mander, appears in the essay on Von Aachen and Italian Mannerist sculpture by Edgar Lein linked with slender female figures around Bartolomeo Ammannati’s Neptune Fountain; Lein also links several Von Aachen figures to Giambologna, e.g. Sebastian (1594; Munich, St. Michael’s) to the Flying Mercury (1588). Fusenig devotes his entire essay to the 1602 Allegory, which he argues emerged as imperial propaganda from current politics: Rudolf II’s pacification efforts in the Netherlands. Tom Kaufmann already suggested that this work celebrated “victory” in the ongoing war with the Ottoman Turks, but Fusenig offers the tantalizing hypothesis that the work was closely linked in the Netherlands with Oldenbarnevelt via imperial legate Count Simon VI.
Even more frequent are discussions of Von Aachen’s allegorical design, engraved by Sadeler, Minerva Leads Painting to the Liberal Arts. It leads off a wide-ranging essay by Lars Olof Larsson, “Seriousness, Humor and Utopia in Mythological Representations of Painting at the Court of Rudolf II.” He sees linking the Munich court with Prague, where it accords with the emperor’s ambitions for court painting as a liberal art (1595). In effect, this image epitomizes the goals of Von Aachen and his colleagues. Essays by Günter Irmscher (with translation of its Latin verses) and Dorothy Limouze focus on this image alone. He emphasizes the divine nature of beauty; she attends closely to the implications of placing Astronomy prominently among the liberal arts in the Rudolfine Prague, site of Kepler research.
Bartholomeus Spranger’s design for a 1604 Jan Muller print, Perseus Armed by Mercury and Minerva makes two cameo appearances. Larsson emphasizes its humor but also its link to the familiar Hermathena fusion of the Rudolfine court–posing the interpretive problem of the image’s proper tone, especially for Spranger. Jürgen Müller devotes an entire essay to this image, arguing that it raises questions about imitation/emulation the canon of ideal art, notably Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina. He also considers the Netherlandish context of the engraving and its humanist Amsterdam dedicatee as well as platonic critiques of pictorial rhetoric. As with Larsson, parodic representation of mythic heroes challenges art itself.
Another single work analyzed by Stepán Vácha reconstructs the main altar (1598) for St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague by Spranger and Vredeman de Vries and a lost central Resurrection by Von Aachen (sketch, Brno; engraving by Raphael Sadeler). Broader essays examine more general topics. Jürgen Zimmer studies the artist’s workshop. Several scholars study the assembly of the Prague royal collections: Andrew John Martin on Von Aachen’s connection to art-lover Hans Jakob König from Venice; Sarvenaz Ayooghi on acquisition networks; Ivana Horacek on geopolitical gift exchanges. Three Hoefnagel essays make useful comparisons: Joachim Jacoby on Joris Hoefnagel’s Christian designs; Joan Boychuk on Joris as court artist; and Thea Vignau-Wilberg on Jacob Hoefnagel as Cammermahler. Rudolf iconography is surveyed by Eliska Zlatohlávková. Finally, Tom Kaufmann reminds us of the global outreach of Rudolf’s court and its art while lending perspective to the state of research, expanded over the course of his own productive career.
This volume offers a rich, diverse dish to any reader interested in the artist or the Rudolfine court moment. It really needs to be read alongside the 2010 exhibition catalogue, and its scattered organization leaves a number of related studies unconnected. (Moreover, conference authors should incorporate each others’ work before publishing). Despite these limitations, Hans von Aachen and Prague now come into much sharper focus for a wider audience than ever before.
University of Pennsylvania