Gothic Era

 

 



Albrecht Durer



 


 

   
Gothic Art Map
 
   
   
Exploration:
Albrecht Durer
 
 
    Formative Years: The First Journeys, 1483-1494    
    First Trip to Italy, 1494-1495    
    Durer's Workshop in Nuremberg, 1495-1505    
    Second Trip to Italy, 1505-1507    
    Nuremberg, 1507-1520    
    Journey to the Netherlands, 1520-1521    
    Final Years in Nuremberg, 1521-1528    
    The Self-Portraits    
    Conclusion    
    Chronological Table    
         
    GRAPHICS
 
   
    Exploration: Gothic Era  (Gothic and Early Renaissance)
 
 
 
 

  
  


Nuremberg, 1507-1520
 


  


The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand
1508
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 

      

    


The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand (detail)
1508
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

        
  
 


The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand (detail)
1508
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

              
 

The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand (detail)
1508
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
 

The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand

Durer executed the painting in 1508 for Frederick the Wise, directly following his return from Italy. He was compensated 280 Rhineland florins. In 1549, on orders from Emperor Charles V, it was sent to Antwerp and given to Nicolas Perrenot, his chancellor. It then passed from his son, Cardinal Granvella, to his grandson, the count of Cantecroy, who sold it to Emperor Rudolph 11 for 13,000 talers in 1600. In 1617, the painting was still in Prague, where Carel van Mander saw and described it. Since 1619, it has been in Vienna, where Joachim van Sandrart described it in 1675.
Frederick the Wise had gathered an enormous quantity of relics in the Stiftskirche of Wittenberg, among which many were of the legendary martyrdom of the ten thousand of Bitinia, particularly those of the Saints Achatius and Hermolaus (Anzelewsky, 1991). This fact explains why he chose, for the painting commissioned to Durer, an episode so removed from the common iconographical theme. The legend that it refers to probably arrived in Europe during the Crusades; however, it did not appear earlier than the twelfth century (Schutz, 1994). It narrates the story of Emperor Adrian, who recruited for a military campaign in Asia the pagan Prince Achatius, with nine thousand soldiers. During the advances against the enemy, who outnumbered them, an angel appeared to Achatius and promised him a victory despite the menacing superiority of the adversaries. After the victorious battle, the angel reappeared, directing him toward Mount Ararat; here, the prince and his soldiers converted to Christianity. The emperor, enraged, decided to slaughter them all and employed the Persian king Sapor II, along with other Eastern princes, for the massacre. Meanwhile, in addition to Achatius's nine thousand soldiers, the thousand Eastern soldiers were baptized; and after having been tortured and having suffered atrocious torments, they were all killed (Anzelewsky, 1991). The same legend, in a different contest, had already been illustrated by Durer ten years earlier in a woodcut. The character lavishly attired, seated on horseback, with an enormous turban and a scepter, who looks at the observer, represents in all likelihood King Sapor of Persia. In front of him, in the foreground, in white clothes, a white turban, and an azure cloak, another high-ranking Easterner is imparting the orders for the tortures and killings, which are readily carried out before his very eyes with clubs and axes. The representation of the violence of the torturers and the various positions of their victims, on their knees and lying on the ground, demonstrates the wide knowledge Durer had acquired about the human form and laws of perspective. Notice, in particular, the figure whose head is about to be smashed: the artist had apparently studied classical sculpture and Italian painting modeled on classical art. An incredible display of knowledge of human physiognomy is evident in the head cut off from the man beside the first. A refined psychological sensibility and pictorial mastery characterize almost all the figures of this tragic scene: for example, the almost cinematographic sequence of the people who are made to fall from the cliff in the top left (Panofsky, 1955), or the highly dramatic representation in perspective of the crucifixions and the various fragments of crosses on the ground. The Bellinian precepts are revealed in the color scheme of the sunset; even the child who plays with the dog, in the corner on the bottom right, has Italian echoes.
The bishop of Nicomedia, Hermolaus (Anzelewsky, 1991, with a bibliography) has been identified in the figure in the center of the painting. He is being accused by a man with pointed gestures in front of an Eastern figure, who, then indicates the pathway of martyrdom. Achatius, on the other hand, is probably represented in the figure with the crown of thorns who moves in front of the crucifixions in the foreground.
In the visual center of the painting, it is clear that Diirer, as usual, looks toward the spectator. This time, he is not wearing rich and gaudy costumes; his black attire expresses his mourning for the recent death of his friend Konrad Celtis, poeta laureatus, professor of poetics at the University of Vienna and well known to Frederick the Wise as well (Panofsky, 1955). In the painting, Celtis stands beside him and with his right hand, looking out to the observer, he indicates sadly the scene of the martyrdom.
The painting, impressive also chromatically, is not an altarpiece but a devotional image; the particular care that Durer devoted to it makes it a piece of exquisite quality, a classic collector's piece. A copy of a preparatory drawing for the painting exists in Vienna as well, in which is sketched a horizontal development of the martyrdom scene; even from the point of view of content, the definitive version presents various modifications.

 




 
 


The Adoration of the Holy Trinity (Landauer Altar)
1511
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
 

     
   

The Adoration of the Holy Trinity
1511
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
 
          

  


The Adoration of the Holy Trinity (detail)
1511
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
 
 
 

The Adoration of the Holy Trinity (detail)
1511
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
 
 

The Adoration of the Trinity
(Landauer Altar)


This panel is one of the few works by Durer whose frame, designed by the artist himself and carved by Ludwig Krug (?) of Nuremberg, has been preserved. The actual frame of the painting is a copy made in 1880-81, and the original is preserved in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum of Nuremberg. The inscription of the frame reads: "Mathes Landauer hat entlich vollbracht das gotteshaus der szwelf bruder samt der Stiftung und dieser thafell nach christi geburd 1511 jor." (Matthaus Landauer has brought to conclusion the Chapel of the Twelve Brothers and the Rest Home and this panel in the year 1511 after the birth of Christ). In 1585, the panel, without the frame, was acquired by Rudolph II for 700 florins. It was mentioned as being present in the Kunstkammer of Prague in 1617 by Carel van Mander and in 1675, by Joachim van Sandrart. It passed to the Geistliche Schatzkammer of Vienna in 1 758, and finally, in 1780 it was set up in the Gemaldegalerie. Matthaus Landauer, a wealthy merchant and a proprietor of foundries (Schutz, 1994), had the rest home built with a chapel attached for the twelve artisans, indigent Nuremberg citizens. He spent the last years of his life in this house that he founded and managed. The chapel is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and to all saints; in the center of the works dedicated to them was placed Durer's altarpiece.
Already in 1508, when the House of the Twelve was still under construction— probably at the moment of the conclusion of the contract with Landauer— Durer presented the patron with a pen drawing in watercolor that showed the very detailed program of the entire work, including the frame. As soon as he had finished the Heller Altar, in 1511, he began to paint, while the carver worked on the frame. Once finished, the painting presented some differences with respect to the original program, in form and content. The most important of these concerns not only the portraits of the patrons but the outline of the altarpiece, which in the definitive version appears cambered in the upper portion. The corners, with a black background today, were covered in the decorative designs of the frame in his time. The ornately carved frame has two lateral columns covered, for the most part, in vine shoots. The "deeis" is represented in the tympanum, that is, Christ as judge of the universe, seated on a rainbow with his feet resting of the globe of the earth. To either side, the Madonna and Saint John the Baptist have intercessory roles. At the top, to the left and right of the tympanum, two angels trumpeting announce the Last Judgment. The angel with the cross, foreseen in the preparatory drawing and still present in a relatively recent photograph (Zampa, 1968), is missing today.
The blessed souls, who are brought to heaven, radiant with sun, are represented on one side of the architrave. On the other, the souls of the damned are pushed toward the obscurity of hell. The general disposition follows a typically Italian outline that was widely diffused at this time. In fact, according to Leon Battista Alberti's book Delia Pittura, it gives the illusion of seeing the painting as if through a window—in this case, through a portal.
At the top of the painting, above the clouds, the three symbols of the Trinity are found: the Eternal Father with the imperial crown, the crucified Christ—a piece of an anatomical study par excellence— and the dove of the Holy Spirit. Angels surround them, carrying the symbols of the martyrdom and holding the cloak of the Eternal Father from behind the crucifix. Above everyone, a flock of cherubs extends into the endless sky. Following the description of the Civitas Dei formulated by Saint Augustine (Panofsky, 1955), Durer represents the glory of the Trinity, encircled in the upper zone by a score of blessed souls: to the left, the female saints, led by the Virgin Mary; to the right, the male saints, prophets, and sibyls, led by Saint John the Baptist. The Christian community hovers beneath these, in the sky between the clouds: the ecclesiastics to the left, led by two popes, viewed from behind; to the right, laymen of all ranks— the king, two emperors, and the peasant with his flail.
Among the ecclesiastics, in an impressively realistic portrait, kneels Matthaus Landauer, portrayed in prayer. He is sponsored and accompanied by a cardinal. To the right is another figure, easily identifiable from his armor, as Landauer's son-in-law, Wilhelm Haller, a mercenary captain. In the lower part of the painting, almost to contrast the suspended scores of saints and men and women, Durer offers us, from a slightly raised perspective, the vision of a landscape passage. This one, even more than the one in the Heller Altar, disappears into an infinite background, illuminated by a most gentle evening light that also shimmers against the clouds, in this deserted terrestrial kingdom, Durer painted himself, the only human being. He is set apart toward the right margin, dressed as usual in a rich fur cloak, and indicative of an ancient styled tablet with the inscription. In the painting, populated by a great quantity and a variety of personages and figures, some details stand out for their true pictorial excellence: the flock of cherubs that encircle the dove of the Holy Spirit; the stupendous cloak of gold brocade of the Pope nearest the spectator; different portraits, the fashion of various clothing; the refined, veiled woman, or the one that alluringly looks out from behind someone else's back; the trimming of the clothes that hang over the clouds in the sky; or in the center, the boot with the spur in front of the clouds that rise above the landscape. Beside this preciosity, however, great uncertainty of proportion is also evident. See, for example, Saint John the Baptist or the legs of Durer himself. The Adoration of the Trinity is the last great altarpiece painted bv Durer.

 

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

 
| privacy