German Mannerism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Northern Mannerism, Mannerism, German Renaissance, German art

The outstanding achievements of the first half of the 16th century were followed by several decades with a remarkable absence of noteworthy German art, other than accomplished portraits that never rival the achievement of Holbein or Dürer. The next significant German artists worked in the rather artificial style of Northern Mannerism, which they had to learn in Italy or Flanders. Hans von Aachen and the Netherlandish Bartholomeus Spranger were the leading painters at the Imperial courts in Vienna and Prague, and the productive Netherlandish Sadeler family of engravers spread out across Germany, among other counties.

Its principal patron Rudolf II was relatively little interested in religion, but more in mythological painting. Goddesses were usually naked, or nearly so, and a more overt atmosphere of eroticism prevails than is found in most Renaissance mythological works, evidently reflecting Rudolf's "special interests".

The dominating figure was Hercules, identified with the emperor, as he had earlier been with earlier Habsburg and Valois monarchs. But the other gods were not neglected; their conjunctions and transformations had significance in Renaissance Neo-Platonism and Hermeticism that were taken more seriously in Rudolf's Prague than any other Renaissance court. It seems, however, that the painted allegories from Prague contain neither very specific complicated meanings, nor hidden recipes for alchemy. Giambologna frequently chose, or let someone else choose, a title for his sculptures after their completion; for him it was only the forms that mattered.

Prague under Rudolf II

Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor (reigned 1564-1576), who made his base in Vienna, had humanist and artistic tastes, and patronised a number of artists, mostly famously Giambologna and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, whose fantasy portraits made up of objects were slightly more serious in the world of late-Renaissance philosophy than they seem now. At the end of his reign he devised a project for a new palace and just before he died the young Flemish painter Bartholomeus Spranger had been summoned from Rome, where he had made a successful career. Maximilian's son, Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor was to prove an even better patron than his father would have been, and Spranger never left his service. The court soon transferred to Prague, safer from the regular Turkish invasions, and during his reign of 1576-1612, Rudolf was to become an obsessive collector of old and new art, his artists mixing with the astronomers, clockmakers, botanists, and "wizards, alchemists and kabbalists" who Rudolf also gathered around him.

Works from Rudolf's Prague were highly finished and refined, with most paintings being relatively small. The elongation of figures and strikingly complex poses of the first wave of Italian Mannerism were continued, and the elegant distance of Bronzino's figures was mediated through the works of the absent Giambologna, who represented the ideal of the style.

Prints were essential to disseminate the style to Europe, Germany and the Low Countries in particular, and some printmakers, like the greatest of the period, Hendrik Goltzius, worked from drawings sent from Prague, while others, like Aegidius Sadeler who lived in Spranger's house, had been tempted to the city itself. Rudolf also commissioned work from Italy, above all from Giambologna, who the Medicis would not allow to leave Florence, and four great mythological allegories were sent by Paolo Veronese. The Emperor's influence affected art in other German courts, notably Munich, and Dresden where the goldsmith and artist Johann Kellerthaler was based.

Working for Rudolf:

Giambologna (1529-1608), Flemish sculptor based in Florence
Adriaen de Vries (1556-1626), Flemish sculptor, pupil of Giambologna, who went to Prague
Bartholomeus Spranger (1546-1611) - Flemish painter, Rudolf's main painter
Hans von Aachen (1552-1615) - German, mythological subjects and portraits for Rudolf
Joseph Heintz the Elder (1564-1609) - Swiss pupil of Hans von Aachen
Paul van Vianen, Dutch silversmith and artist
Aegidius Sadeler - mainly a printmaker
Wenzel Jamnitzer (1507/8-1585), and his son Hans II and grandson Christof, German goldsmiths
Joris Hoefnagel, especially for miniatures of natural history
Roelant Savery, landscapes with animals and still-lifes





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