Sunday, October 7, 2012

Imperial Augsburg: Renaissance Prints and Drawings, 1475–1540

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: December 31, 2012

Augsburg is one of Germany's oldest cities, founded in 15 B.C. as a Roman military fortress, and named for the Emperor Augustus.  Its close proximity and many commercial ties to Italy led to an interest in classical art and its adaptations during the Italian Renaissance.  1475-1540 was Augsburg's cultural golden age and works from this time period are what is on display here.

Prints played an important role in the expression of religious devotion common in the late middle ages.  Many in Augusburg embraced Luther's ideas, and he visited the city in 1518.  Augsburg adopted a "middle way" - there was an official tolerance of both Catholics and Protestants, which allowed artists to create art for both groups.

"Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and St. John," a print by Erhard Ratdott, on display here, is the earliest extant multifigured and multicolored print in the history of Western art.  It's always exciting to see something with an historical pedigree.  You can see the first time someone decided to try something new; I'm a bit surprised the gallery hasn't played this up more in its advertising.  Ratdott used vellum as his canvas, in an attempt to imitate the look of illuminated manuscripts, so a nod to the past, as well as a bold venture into the future.  Although this was done in 1491, the colors are still vibrant and beautiful.

Much of the art centers around women leading men to their downfall, a sadly common Biblical theme.  Works depicting people surprised by death also abound, which are not so misogynistic, but are a bit morbid.  Lots of art was created for Maximillian I, the Holy Roman Emperor, who was a patron of the city.  I was also reminded of the exhibit of Spanish armor I saw some time ago when I saw medals that had been created for Charles V.

Verdict: Not the most dazzling show, and not a large crowd.  It's a moderately sized exhibit, so manageable in a lunch hour.  Worth a look, especially if you are a fan of medieval art.

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