Dorothea Diemer’s tandem monograph on Hubert Gerhard and Carlo di Cesare del Palagio, two sculptors working at the late sixteenth-century court of Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria, reaches far beyond the life and works of the artists. Diemer dusts off stacks of archival material to recreate long-lost monuments, pictorial cycles, ephemera and architectural projects. Sumptuously illustrated, her two-volume work represents the culmination of decades of research and engagement with late sixteenth-century court culture and artistic traditions tied to the cultural elite in and around Munich, Augsburg, Innsbruck, and other German-speaking cities.
Intimately familiar with the primary sources, the author is a formidable scholar who also possesses a thorough understanding of the technical aspects of her subjects’ media: bronze and stucco. In her introduction, she proposes that the long disinterest in this vital period in German art results from centuries of nationalism. Since the artists working for princely and wealthy patrons in the late sixteenth century were often either Netherlandish or Italian rather than German, the international, often mannerist style was often derogated. These two volumes substantially rectify the resulting scholarly neglect.
Volume I provides the narrative while Volume II, packed with crucial original documents and an extensive catalogue of works, is an invaluable resource for scholars of this period. In the five sections of the first volume, Diemer analyzes the individual and collaborative works of the two subject artists, supplies the necessary historical background that brought so many artists to the Bavarian court, and discusses court art during the reign of Wilhelm V. Geographically, Diemer ranges from s’Hertogenbosch to Florence as she tracks down the many foreign artists who congregated in southern Germany at the end of the sixteenth century.
Diemer examines the collision of tradition-bound German sculpture workshops, such as that of the Vischer family, with new theories about inventiveness and originality that were informing Italian practices. Although the bronze sculptor does not need the technical skill of a carver and thus can work more directly in the medium through wax, terracotta, or stucco models, she also investigates how northern artists received their training in a medium that required a sizeable financial outlay and was notoriously hazardous. Large-scale bronze casting was an expensive undertaking not much practiced by German workshops in the sixteenth century and its revival can be specifically tied to such wealthy patrons as the profligate Duke Wilhelm, his brother Duke Ferdinand, or the ambitious Augsburg banker Hans Fugger.
For many years, a great deal of sculpture from Munich was considered either anonymous or was attributed to well-known sculptors like Adriaen de Vries. The collaboration of many artists on large-scale projects during this period creates complicated issues for interpretation and attribution. Northern courts were commissioning the same sort ofGesamtkunstwerk that the Medici instituted for representational reasons in Florence. Neither Hubert Gerhard nor Carlo di Cesare del Palagio designed their own works. The court artist and artistic director throughout the last two decades of the sixteenth century, Friedrich Sustris, provided the drawings for much of the work that the sculptors executed.
Although no one artist can be credited with many of these courtly commissions, Diemer still gives the talent and inventiveness of the individuals a thorough treatment. Many local German artists, long left anonymous as mere assistants on important projects, are finally given names. The decision to give both artists equal time proves to be fortuitous since it allows Diemer to consider the differences in training between North and South.
Hubert Gerhard was born in s’Hertogenbosch where he could not have been exposed to much, if any, bronze casting. Surmising that Gerhard must have received some sort of training before he left for Italy, she follows him to Antwerp and Cornelis Floris, who, however, only worked in marble. Gerhard arrived in Florence in 1581, where his contact with the workshop of Giambologna afforded him the experience necessary to translate both style and technique to the many commissions that the court at Munich offered, especially the decade long project of furnishing sculpture for the colossal church of St. Michael’s.
Diemer also tracks the career of Carlo di Cesare del Palagio through a paper trail that begins in Florence but results in his collaboration with Gerhard in Munich. Although Carlo was hired to complete stucco work in the Munich Antiquarium, the experimental nature of bronze casting in the North afforded him the opportunity to execute his own castings in bronze. Carlo was learning “on the job,” so to speak, and despite being fired by the father of Wilhelm V, Duke Albrecht V, for substandard work, he was later retained by Wilhelm, evidence that the young duke was determined to retain Italian artists who could create an artistic culture equal to Florence.
After explaining the genesis of the artists, their training as well as how their patrons came to seek them out, Diemer meticulously examines the works themselves, from grave monuments to garden complexes, elaborate fountains and architectural decorations. Some pieces, such as Mercury or Perseus, both set up in a court garden, were almost direct copies of Giambologna and Benvenuto Cellini prototypes. Other works, such as the many angels, saints, and apostles that inhabit St. Michael’s church, are unique to their setting.
The sheer magnitude of production in the last two decades of the sixteenth century is staggering and indicates a tremendous financial investment by Wilhelm V. Since most of the sculpture belongs within a larger context, Diemer provides important programmatic interpretation in addition to the visual analysis of individual pieces. Her careful research and understanding of technical issues combined with her fluid narrative style results in the most thorough account of the artistic undertaking of the Bavarian court to date. Intelligent and intelligible, these two volumes create a rich world that develops a cultural history as well as an art history for South Germany on the eve of the seventeenth century.
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh