The Royal Collection of Graphic Art at The National Museum of Denmark (SMK) holds what is perhaps the world’s largest collection of works by Melchior Lorck (1526/7 – 1583). The exhibition Melchior Lorck: An Artist in Transit is curated by Hanne Kolind Poulsen, and presented in the beautifully appointed space of the main exhibition hall of the SMK in central Copenhagen. The curator took special care with the deep blue background of the high walls that offsets the graphic works and increases the visibility of the more than 240 drawings, woodcuts, and engravings shown in this historic exhibition. A special feature is the integration of a modern video work, Extemporary Sevenhills of Istanbul, by the Turkish artist Ferhat Özgür, offering a present-day perspective on Lorck and contemporary Istanbul. Hanne Kolind Poulsen and Mikael Bøgh Rasmussen edited the richly illustrated catalogue, Melchior Lorck. Fact, Fiction, Interpretation, which is published in Danish and in English and contains seven essays by leading experts in the field. The catalogue and the exhibition align thematically with the following topics: “Lorck’s Cultural Roots,” “To Constantinople,” “The Turkish Publication,” “The Prospect of Constantinople,” “Vienna,” “Byzantine Antiquity in the Ottoman Empire,” “Lorck’s Costume Books,” and “The Court Artist Lorck.” All of Lorck’s work are cited according to the five-volume catalogue of the artist’s oeuvre by Erik Fischer and edited by Ernst Jonas Bencard and Mikael Bøgh Rasmussen (2009).
The title,“Melchior Lorck: An Artist in Transit,” of this largest ever monographic exhibition devoted to the German-Danish artist confirms his itinerant career and his many encounters with the world far beyond his origins on the fjord in Flensburg in what was then Danish territory and is now part of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. The Baltic sea provided the first points of transit for the young Lorck, who traveled the region with his unnamed master goldsmith during his apprenticeship. As the recipient of a scholarship from King Christian III, Lorck traveled extensively in German-speaking lands, Italy, and the Low Countries. He later joined the imperial embassy led by Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq to Constantinople (Istanbul), where he sojourned, part of the time under house arrest, for three and one-half years. Lorck conceptualized several comprehensive, illustrated book publications, the key project an ethnographic and print study of the Ottoman Turks. While his illustrated volumes were never realized in his life time, the graphic works in this exhibition provide a clear overview of the artist’s plans.
The exhibition presents Lorck’s two central masterpieces in their full context. For the first time both his so-called Turkish publication of 128 woodcuts and his eleven-meter long Prospect of Constantinople are shown together – and the result is breathtaking. Lorck is one of the most widely recognized Northern printmakers of the sixteenth century, who provided Europe with some of its first authentic images of the Ottoman Empire. Both of these key works have the Ottoman Empire at their center.
The Prospect of Constantinople presents a panorama of the city on 21 sheets in black and brown ink and colors. As Çiğdem Kafescioğluthe points out in his catalogue essay, Lorck engaged with a radically new visual language in his representation of the urban landscape that demonstrated him to be a perceptive observer of the particular topography of the city and its distinctive architecture, much of which reflected an intense campaign of new building in the mid-sixteenth century. Lorck also responded to the vibrant city with new idioms in the European representation of the Ottoman imperial city, including distant measuring, views from only a moderate height as opposed to a bird’s eye view, and perspectives employed in maritime maps and atlases. The scale of the Prospect was meant to reflect the immensity of the city and its myriad activities, represented in a comprehensive view of Constantinople from a moderate height on the opposite shore at Galata, also known as Pera. The view continues to impress viewers today. About half way down the Prospect Lorck immortalized himself in a self-portrait in the act of completing the work, stating “Das Ortt zu Gallatta (oder Pera), da ich Melchior Lorichs die Statt am meisten oder den meisten Theil der Statt geConterfeit habe. Anno 1559” [The place at Galata, or Pera, where I, Melchior Lorck, portrayed the city mainly, or the main part of the city]. His wide embrace of the city and his Prospect presents the fiction of a single perspective point, while scholars confirm that a multiplicity of views informed this image. Lorck’s brilliance lay in unifying multiplicity into a consistent, coherent whole.
Transitions and the multiplicity of perspectives informed Lorck’s entire oeuvre and life. His encounters with multiple cultures, with many linguistic and visual idioms, with many artistic genres, as well as his incessant travels confirm that he was an artist who held very broad multiple perspectives in the many senses of the word. Toward the end of his life he entered the employ of King Frederik II and appears to have settled again in the North, sojourning in Hamburg.
Visitors can experience these transitions and multiplicities by traversing the space of the exhibition. The sheer number of graphic works is stunning, ranging all the way up the high walls. While this could be seen as a flaw in the exhibition – having images high up where visitors can not see the details clearly, the effect of the many pictures covering the walls of such a large space suggests the sheer scale, in terms of numbers, of Lorck’s work. What struck this viewer, however, is the small size of many of these prints. The roughly quarto format implies a print publication in that format. The many Turkish pictures were, of course, intended to become an illustrated work about the Ottoman Turks. Others, such as the portraits, also conform to this format as well.
The range of Lorck’s graphic works is fully confirmed in this exhibition with the 128 prints for the Turkish work, including the complex emblematic self-portrait in medals that came to function as the title page for bound volumes of the Turkish works, published after Lorck’s death, here in display cases. The visual information provided by Lorck flooded the Holy Roman Empire and was used in the following century, including his ethnographic and other descriptive information, to illustrate Eberhard Werner Happel’s news about the wars against the Turks. Among the wealth of images are the woodcuts and engravings of portraits of rulers, including Frederik II of Denmark, Suleyman the Lawgiver, and the Sultanas; other costumed figures including “Africans” and women in traditional dress from various regions in the German-speaking lands; ambassadorial portraits; emblems of moles and cranes; the many works depicting architectural monuments and Byzantine antiquities; many soldiers, for example one on horseback with an elaborate headdress, shield, and a long spear; civilians at various tasks; kitchen utensils, and much more. In midst of this cornucopia along one wall is the Prospect of Constantinople. Leiden University is to commended for lending this magnificent work.
There is one glaring absence. Two later copies by Johann Salomon Wahl, of Lorck’s Tortoise Above a Walled, Coastal Town (ca. 1555) stood in for Lorck’s spectacular drawing in charcoal with white highlights on carta azzurra. The original at the British Museum was prohibitively expensive to insure and thus not in the exhibition. This is a regrettable, but unavoidable absence.
Important for readers of this review are Lorck’s Netherlandish networks, in particular his connections to Flemish networks of prints and artistic production (see Çiğdem Kafescioğluthe). Among his connections in Antwerp were Christoph Plantin (c. 1520–1589), Abraham Ortelius (1527–1598), Philips Galle (1537–1612), and Hubert Goltzius (1526-1583). Many of these humanists signed Ortelius’s Stammbuch, as did Lorck. His Habsburg networks are equally well placed: the rector of the university and the imperial physician and historiographer under Emperor Ferdinand, Wolfgang Lazius (1514-1565); the poet and doctor Andreas Charopus (c. 1542- c.1600; fl. 1560s); and the diplomat and historian Michael von Aitzing (1530–1598). Lorck twice received noteworthy praise in dedications from the humanistic printer Sigmund Feyerabend (1528–1590) in Frankfurt. Lorck’s networks of royal patronage in Denmark, German-speaking lands, and the Empire all deserve more study from the perspective of court studies, patronage networks, and artistic and diplomatic exchange.
This exhibition and its catalogue complement the already published four volumes of Lorck’s oeuvre. Together they make a compelling case that volume five with the indices must appear soon. Hanne Kolind Poulsen and the authors of the catalogue’s essays all deserve our thanks for this remarkable exhibition.
More explanations https://www.smk.dk/en/exhibition/melchior-lorck/
a gallery of images https://www.smk.dk/en/list/melchior-lorck-press-photos/
and a biography of the artist Lorck https://www.smk.dk/en/article/biography-lorck/
are available online.
Mara R. Wade
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign