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The Woodcuts Of Albrecht Altdorfer

( Originally Published 1914 )

GERMAN art of the Renaissance must be looked at through quite another pair of spectacles than Italian. The things that the artists knew, the things in which they were interested, were so diverse that a completely different set of critical standards must be brought into play. As compared with the Italians, they knew little of formal beauty, of composition, or of color, and Mr. Berenson's tactile values and movement were to most of them a sealed book. But they had other qualities and a naivete that to some extent are recompenses for their failures in these respects. Many of them were good illustrators, not so many of them good draughtsmen, and two of them at least really great ones. All of them had a certain almost journalistic feeling for the little details of the immediate life about them that many of the Italians lacked, and that lends to their work much of the charm and interest that inheres in crotchety memoirs and old letters. Properly speaking, their study probably belongs more to the history of manners than the history of art, and it has to be approached in a correspondingly different way, for, on the whole, even though we know them only through their work, they are far more interesting as men than as artists. And so, he who would study them and get pleasure from them must, like Montaigne on his travels, be more interested in whether his hosts took water in their wine than in their theories of salvation, ethical or aesthetic. And of them all, Albrecht Altdorfer was probably the one who took most care of the water that he mixed with his wine.

ALBRECHT ALTDOREER was born about 1480, certainly not much later ; and although there are records of an earlier Altdorfer—in his time also a burgher of Ratisbon—who may have been Albrecht's father, we know nothing of his family or where he was horn. There are theories about travels that he may or must have made in the Tyrol, perhaps to Vienna and to Northern Italy, and conjectures that Michael Pacher may have been his master; but of his early life nothing appears to be known. Otherwise the facts of his career are simple and straightforward. He acquired the franchise at Ratisbon in 1505, had public contracts, and bought houses in 1513 and in 1518; in 1519 he was a member of the lower branch of the town council that ordered the expulsion of the Jews and the razing of the synagogue; in 1526 he was not only a member of the inner council but also town architect ; in 1527 his wife Anna died, though what her surname was or when he married her seems to be unknown ; a little later he declined the mayoralty because of the stress of work that he was under for Duke William IV of Bavaria ; in 1532 he bought another town house, in 1534 he became warden of the Austin Friary, and in 1537 he bought a large country house with a garden. Early in 1538 he made his will, and in February of that year he died. His will tells us that, in addition to two sisters and a brother, he left two town houses, a country place, much plate, some jewelry, a few books, a horse, and a cellar full of wine.

There are several portraits of him, of which two do not appear to be over veridical, while another, a reproduction of which may be seen by the curious in the "Repertorium," at page 458 of Volume XXXI, shows him to have been a large man with a fancy for striking dress, but it gives us no idea whatever of his features or of the way in which he held his head. Fortunately for us, who are thus driven back upon his work for his picture, there have been few men who have left behind them a more striking record of their expression than he, his every plate and block speaking volumes of his good humor and his keen kindly eyes, and assuring us that he relished a good story well told. We are sure that he loved small children, that he took great delight in fine raiment and beautiful silver, and that he was an ardent devotee of the Virgin Mary.

Some of his architectural work, such as the market-tower, the slaughter-house, and some of the fortifications that were hurriedly thrown up against an anticipated invasion of the Turks in 1529 and 1530, survived until comparatively recently. He seems to have painted and drawn all his life, and charming works from his hand are in many of the German galleries and print-rooms. For us, however, the most important part of his work is his prints, which the experts tell us fall into periods about as follows; from 1506 to 1511, engravings ; from 1511 to 1517, woodcuts ; about 1520, engravings, etchings, and woodcuts; from 1521 to 1526, chiefly engravings; and after 1530, etchings.

Perhaps the best way to place his time is to recall that Durer died in 1528, just ten years earlier than he did, that Holbein's "Dance of Death" was first published in 1538, the year of his death, and that 1511, the first date to appear on any of his woodcuts, was the same year as the publication of Durer's "Life of the Virgin," and three years after Burgkmaier and Jost de Negker together produced the first chiaroscuro woodcut.

As a designer of woodcuts, Altdorfer is hardly known in spite of the historical and artistic importance of that part of his work, which seems to have been forgotten or disregarded soon after his death. So low did his esteem fall that Jean Michel Papillon, in his great "Treatise on Woodcutting," published in 1766, could say :

"On a fait une infinite de copies graves en bois des Ouvrages d'Albert Durer; j'en ai quelques-unes qui sont affreuses, lesquelles pourroient bien etre de sa femme Agnes Frey, a qui quelques Auteurs attribuent des petites Planches des miracles de Notre-Seigneur, & laquelle faisoit sa Marque par cet A gothique ; cependant, quelques-uns donnent cette marque a Philippe Adler Paticina, de qui l'on voit un saint Christophe grave en bois, de 1518."

However this may be, and though there are doubt-less those today who still see through Papillon's eyes, there are others who believe that Altdorfer was one of the three or four great European masters of the woodcut. Of all that wonderful group who designed wood-cuts in the first third of the sixteenth century, he was the sweetest and most lovable, making happiness for others, like a happy child, untroubled by theory or dogma. Nervously higher strung than any of his contemporaries, his work has perhaps a correspondingly stronger human appeal, for what he drew he dramatized and gave life to, at times forcing action to the verge of caricature, but always conveying a feeling of emotional vitality. However impossible the subject or the action, he somehow managed to make it appear true, and so it happens that neither his naivete nor the great beauty of his draughtsmanship is a necessary factor in our enjoyment of his work, for if taken only as romance it is good.

As an artist, more than any other of his time and country he was preoccupied with the problems of space and light. Whereas the landscape of his con-temporaries is conceived as a series of contours lying in one plane, his, whether in those etchings that are the first landscapes in the modern sense of the word or when incidental and serving as background, is almost always built of distances, as if, rather than looking at it, he had looked over and through it, so that his prints are full of space, and usually contain vistas down which the eye can travel for relief. Although the feeling for space did not show itself as markedly in his woodcuts as in his etchings and engravings, it is nevertheless one of their chief characteristics, and its corollary, the interest in light and shade, is to be seen only in them at its highest development. He was able to make of lights and shades living things with emotional values, and to handle them with greater dramatic effect than any black-and-white man prior to Rembrandt.

Although his prints never have the ideal content that so often marks those of Durer, it is probably true that he had a more intelligent appreciation of the relative values of idea and technical virtuosity than any other German. And this is particularly note-worthy when we consider that his work is cast physically in a small mould, a trait that is almost universally combined with an overwhelming interest in the cookery of things. One of the great technical masters, he was restless and was never content to re-peat his trick of the hand, constantly attacking new problems and invariably attacking them with a view to greater emotional expressiveness. I doubt whether a single instance of technical parade can be found in his work, and I am sure that none of it is finer as en-graving than as an intelligent work of art ; yet from the historical point of view it is perhaps on the technical side that his woodcuts are the most interesting.

In Altdorfer 's time the woodcut was much what it had been in the beginning, so far as the methods of preparing the block for printing were concerned. In fact, it was only within the few years preceding the turn of the sixteenth century that the woodcut had first been used as a means of personal expression; for however much charm and beauty the earlier cuts—particularly the Italian ones—had, Durer's cuts were the first in which a well-defined personality can be seen. The quickly formed German tradition, doubt-less largely because of the custom of turning the drawn blocks over to professional cutters, was entirely linear ; and the beauty of the flowing cursive line became so highly developed, at the expense of other and more important things, that interesting as they may be as examples of calligraphic virtuosity, many of the cuts are rather sorry pictures. Partly in the endeavor to break away from this strictly linear method, Cranach and Burgkmaier, before 1511, had worked out the device of printing their cuts from two or more blocks, the black line block and supplemental tint blocks printed in flat tones like washes. This method gave some charming and often very decorative results, particularly in the hands of Ugo da Carpi and other Italians; but in the North, aside from the magnificent Death as Throttler of Burgkmaier and Baldung's tragic Crucifixion, it can hardly be said to have produced any results of great value. Certainly it was not capable of rendering light and shade adequately. This problem Altdorfer was the first to solve on a wood block, and he did it by using only the black block, but so completely subordinating the individual line to the mass of shade that at times we are hardly conscious of the line. So great an advance was this that I am not at all sure that on the technical side he was not the most important innovator before the time of Kirkall—if Kirkall it was who first engraved a block cut across the grain. There is an old tradition, supported, we are told by those competent to judge of such things, by the internal evidence of the cuts, that Altdorfer cut many of his own blocks, and it may have been due to this fact that the discovery was made. Certainly, there is in Munich a partly cut block with one of his drawings on it, which has been so erratically attacked by the cutter that it would hardly seem possible for the cutting to have been the work of a professional, and therefore probably more or less methodical, cutter.

THE date of Altdorfer's earliest woodcut is uncertain, some little round cuts that are quite tentative in design and of no great interest evidently antedating by some time the first dated prints. When he began to design cuts seriously, however, it would seem as though he had already in large measure formed him-self, for the four cuts dated 1511 show no marks of the novice in spite of the rapid development that was to come in the next few years. In these, The Massacre of the Innocents (B. 46), a Judgment of Paris (B. 60), a Saint George and the Dragon (B. 55), and The Lovers in the Wood (B. 63), the line is markedly calligraphic, and in its boldness and frankness quite charming and naive. The most delightful of them is probably the Saint George, in which the towering hills of the background, echoing the gaily caparisoned and many-plumed knight, are closely related to the ducks and swans that our great grandmothers' writing-masters were wont to make without taking pen from paper. The Massacre, too, is interesting, because in it the composition is balanced by a ruined building, perhaps the first ruin to be introduced into a woodcut simply for its beauty and picturesqueness ; for it should be noted in passing that Altdorfer was one of the earliest masters to show any decided interest in the picturesque as such.

The next year—1512--he produced the Beheading of the Baptist (B. 52) and a Resurrection (B. 47), not only two of the largest cuts that he made, but also among the most interesting since they show him al-most at his best as an illustrator, although they are not so successful as some of the later ones as reasoned works of art. In the first of them the scene is laid outside a ruined building, one of whose crumbling, vine-covered arches, stretching boldly across the print, bears at its apex a clump of well-grown trees, one of which throws its dead and naked branches to an unclouded sky. The grouping of the figures is masterly, and their varying expressions and gestures, from Herodias, holding her voluminous gown from the earth with her elbows, while she reaches out her platter for the severed head, to the woman in the background bending forward to see, with muscles nervously contracted and one clenched fist pressed against her lips, are quite remarkably dramatic.

The Resurrection, in its way, is perhaps even finer, with its sleepy soldiers, particularly the one who blinks as he turns his lantern upon the risen Christ, and the childish play of the little angels in their delight at the escape and the outwitting of the enemy. Technically it is interesting as the first or one of the first woodcuts in which a deliberate and intelligent effort was made to render artificial lighting.

The Resurrection, unless seen in a perfect impression, is apt to leave one cold, as much of the play of fancy and charming detail is lost in the gray muddiness produced by poor printing and the wearing of the rather elaborately designed and finely cut block. Mr. William Bell Scott, in his book on the Little Masters (among whom he included Altdorfer), stated that he had in his possession an impression of this print which convinced him that Altdorfer knew the technical trick of overlaying; but when this impression was exhibited last spring in New York, it was apparent that what Mr. Scott took for skill in the printer was only the result of careless inking and bad wear, while the paper was undoubtedly of the eighteenth century.

Shortly after these come two cuts of the Christopher legend, both departing from the more or less hallowed tradition according to which the saint is seen in the middle of the stream. In the undated print (B. 54), Christopher, crouching at the river-bank and firmly supporting himself with a freshly cut sapling, is preparing to swing the Christ Child to his shoulder before crossing the river. In the print dated 1513 (B. 53), the river has been crossed and Christopher is about to pull himself and his precious burden up on the far bank. It would be difficult to find two so nearly contemporaneous prints of the same subject from the same hand showing greater differences of conception and technique than these two ; for while the undated one is rather muddy and confused, the work being very fine and attempting shadow only to result in blotches, the other, depending entirely upon the beautiful spacing and laying of a few simple and open lines, is perhaps the boldest and freest of all Altdorfer's cuts, and has a lovely cool silvery quality that is almost unique among early woodcuts.

In the same year that saw the blond and gossamer-like Christopher, Altdorfer produced a remarkably lovely Annunciation (B. 44), the second of his wood-cut studies of artificial light, and so far the most imaginative of his cuts. From a brilliantly lighted hall the angel of the Annunciation leads us into a room where, at a little table between her bed and the closed window, the Virgin is praying, her hands together over an open book on which the light falls from a candle standing beside a goblet full of posies and a little screen to shade her eyes. The strong light from the hall falling across the floor gently illuminates the darkness of the room, while the flicker of the candle lights the Virgin's face and hands and catches points on her gown and on the pillows piled high on the bed behind her. The figure of the angel dominates the scene, and so gentle is his approach, and so great the power that shines forth from him, that we can readily believe that Altdorfer had in mind the

Mittit ad Virginem
Non quemvis angelum
Sed fortitudinem
Suam, Archangelum
Arnator hominis

of the medieval church. As for the management of the light and shade, nothing further remained to be done on a wood block cut by a formschneider save Altdorfer's own Saint Jerome in the Grotto and his Death of the Virgin.

The Saint Jerome in the Grotto (B. 57), of which I have just spoken, appears to follow the Annunciation in chronological order and was probably produced in 1515. Here Jerome, a lean and gnarled old man, prays before a crucifix at the entrance to a deep and winding cavern. Our eyes are led back from the light-flooded foreground through the dim cave, now opening high overhead and again so low that a man must n( I stoop would he pass, until they find a little opening through which can be seen a hillside and some houses on the opposite bank of a river. The composition, depending entirely for its effect on the massing of the varying lights with which the mouth and the broken sides and jagged roof of the cavern are filled, was as bold a thing to try one's hand at as could well be found; but the thing was done, and so well done that from a technical point of view this is one of the most remarkable of all German Renaissance woodcuts.

About this time—probably in 1515—comes the magnificent set of forty little prints known as the "Passion Series" (B. 1-40), which contains an epitome of all that Altdorfer knew and was. They measure about seventy-two millimeters in height and about forty millimeters in width, and save for Holbein's "Dance of Death," are probably the smallest set of woodcuts that was made at the time of the Renaissance in Germany, except of course for initials and printers' ornaments. Not nearly so famous as the "Dance," they are in the eyes of some people just as great works of art ; certainly they have a romantic appeal which the rather didactic subjects of the "Dance" lack. It would be interesting to know whether they were that "book illustrated with woodcuts" which figured in the inventory of the bankrupt Rembrandt.

It is quite possible that the idea of the series may be due to Durer's "Little Passion" on wood of 1511, although the general scheme of the two sets of prints is quite different. Each artist, as established tradition demanded, began with Adam and Eve, and went on through the scenes of the Life and Passion. But while Durer practically never introduced the Virgin save as a secondary figure, Altdorfer introduced her so constantly, and devoted such a large share of his pictures to her story as distinct from that of her Son, that in his set she is a very real protagonist. And what is even more remarkable, in many of the pictures in which both Son and mother figure, it is the mother who is the emotional center of interest.

Moreover, in addition to the fact that the two artists frequently chose different subjects, when the subjects were the same they were seen from such completely different points of view that the results have little in common. The Altdorfers have a swing and movement that is quite intoxicating, while the Durers, however beautiful, often seem to smack a little of the set scene before the drop curtain. Altdorfer, the architect and builder, had come into frequent and intimate contact with laborers and artisans, with the result that in his work there is rarely to be seen any gesture or movement that is not muscularly effective and that does not bear the imprint of practical observation. As an example of this practical point of view the picture of Christ being fastened to the Cross is typical. It would be difficult and impractical to fasten the body to the erected cross, so it lies on the ground, and a workman, kneeling on one knee and holding the outstretched arm of the Saviour firmly in place with his left hand, drives the nail home with vigorous and well-directed blows of the hammer, much as a carpenter lays a plank in the floor. The succeeding print in the series is an even more remarkable instance of this convincing illustrative skill, and when one has once seen it one cannot but think that all other representations of the subject rather fail as imaginative transcripts from real life. Here nobody weeps, and nothing is measured or quiet; the captain of the soldiers, like the foreman of a construction gang, gives orders to his men, and they run the cross up on the points of their pikes with all the swing and gusto and exactly the movement with which telegraph-men rush a pole into place at the side of a country road.

It is this quality of keenly expressed movement that is the distinguishing mark of this set among German woodcuts, the forty little blocks containing more real movement than can be squeezed from the entire work of any two of Altdorfer's contemporaries. Probably the most intense instance of it is to be found in the Christ carrying the Cross, where our Lord has fallen to his knees in the hooting crowd while one Roman soldier roughly shakes him and bids him be on, and another with his right hand raises a loose coil of rope to strike. The moment is so intense and the movement so insistent that one instinctively turns away lest one hear the thud of the rope as it falls. The Flogging of Christ and The Crowning with Thorns, absolute master-pieces of observation and invention, are almost as fine.

A detailed comparison of one of these prints and one of the more celebrated Durers is interesting not only because it shows the difference between the two men, but because it indicates as clearly as anything can that even then the line between the classic and the romantic was well drawn, a fact we are rather apt to forget. Each of the two masters made a woodcut of the Angel appearing to Joachim, Altdorfer's not much more than two inches in height, Durer's a large in folio. The big print is carefully and conscientiously worked out with the greatest beauty of detail and draughtsmanship ; the folds of the floating angel's robe are charmingly elaborated, the figure of Joachim is erect and dignified, while the drawing, especially in the hands and the sleeping dog, is really quite extraordinary even for Darer himself. But while all is decorous, nothing moves, there is no emotion, and we can turn aside from it in the full consciousness that however long it may be before we return to it, we shall find the angel's robe in just the same elaborate folds, and that Joachim's little finger will cut across the patiently wrought foliage in just the same place that it did when last we looked at it. In the Altdorfer all is different. There is nothing surprising or wonderful about the rather ragged little print, which almost verges on caricature and in some respects is quite foolish, save the wizardry of it; for a really hurried and quite undignified angel tumbles headlong from the sky, to place a large and silly legal document with a dangling wax seal in the hands of an excited and frowzy old man who has stumbled to his knees in the frenzy of his excitement. Yet we dare not look away for fear that something will happen in the moment that our attention is diverted. One man has given a learned dissertation in carefully chosen and arranged words, in which the words and their arrangement were the all-important thing; the other stumbled in his talk, his words were not always well chosen, and his enunciation was sometimes vulgar and often bad, but he had actually seen something that he was compelled to tell us, and that he did tell us simply and directly.

In the same way the little cuts of The Visitation and The Meeting at the Golden Gate are full of life and actuality. The embrace in each case is a real embrace full of emotion and love, the one at the gate reminding us, in its fervor, of the way in which, according to Sir Thomas North, Pompey "ramped" his mother about the neck on his return from a long absence, with the result that it is one of the most satisfying masculine representations of the Immaculate Conception that we have.

The Mary cuts—if they may be so distinguished from the others—are marked by their greater gentleness and charm ; and although they have not so much power and vitality, are probably the most attractive and lovely part of the series. To say that in large measure they realize the opportunity that the texts give them is sufficient criticism when we stop to realize what those texts are,—the story of the Presentation, for instance, as given in the seventh chapter of the Protevangelion, being that "when the child was three years old, Joachim said, Let us invite the daughters of the Hebrews, who are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them be lighted, that the child may not turn back again, and her mind be set against the Temple of the Lord. And they did thus until they ascended into the Temple of the Lord. And the high priest received her, and blessed her, and said, Mary, the Lord God hath magnified thy name to all generations, and to the very end of time by thee will the Lord shew his redemption to the children of Israel. And he placed her upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord gave unto her grace, and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her,"—to which tradition added that Mary ran up the steps of the Temple without once looking back.

In the Death of the Virgin, Altdorfer again reflects the legends and the speculations of his time ; for while most of the representations of the scene show the Virgin lying on her bed, in his, she who was the mother of God, who had borne her child without pain, and who had stood at the foot of the cross, dies standing upright before her Maker. At the third hour of the night, when the candles were lit, and surrounded by the apostles, who had been miraculously brought together, she died and gave her soul into the hands of her Son, while heavenly choirs chanted canticles and praises. In obedience to John's behest, "Take care, my brothers, and weep not when she shall be dead," the apostles showed no sign of sorrow, and with their strong arms supported her lifeless body gently, so that, in the words of the Golden Legend, it might be "surrounded with roses and lilies, the symbols of martyrs, of angels, of confessors, and of virgins." The woodcut is as fine as its opportunity, the drawing of the figures and the superb massing and lighting combining with intense emotion to make it one of the most moving and beautiful of all German prints.

Just about this time Altdorfer was busy playing his rather minor part in the making of the several great series of woodcuts commissioned by the Emperor Maximilian. There seem to be only twelve cuts from his designs, two architectural details and ten scenes from the Kaiser's life which were used in the "Triumphal Gate," and which, while carefully drawn, are not particularly interesting. These twelve cuts, however, are the smallest part of his work for the several great series of vainglorious woodcuts, as it seems that the preliminary series of miniatures for the "Triumphal Procession" were prepared by Altdorfer and his pupils, one of whom, known to us only as the Master of the Tross, made the drawings for a number of the blocks that go at the beginning and the end of the "Procession" and for thirty-two of the intermediate blocks. These miniatures are the only ones of all that were prepared for the several series of Maximilian cuts that have any artistic value, as, for the greater part, the others were done by hack draughts-men, and worse, under the supervision of the imperial secretaries, the miniatures for the projected Freydal series having actually been turned over to the court tailor to prepare! It is possible that this work ac-counts for the fact that there seems to be only one cut from Altdorfer's hand in the interval between 1515 and about 1519 or 1520, a not very interesting Beheading of the Baptist (Schmidt 54), dated 1517, of which the only recorded copy is in the Albertina at Vienna.

There are two prints that were probably done about 1519 or 1520, an Abraham's Sacrifice (B. 41) and the Return of the Spies (B. 42), the latter being one of the most charming of the master's works. In it the spies are returning from the land of Canaan laden with fruit and leaves, some piled high on platters held overhead, and some woven into a great wreath carried on a sapling slung from shoulder to shoulder. Of all the German woodcuts in which the Italian influence is strongly to be seen, this, in its simplicity and freshness, is surely one of the most delightful.

The remaining woodcuts that deserve particular mention are all connected with the apparition of the "Schoene Maria von Regensburg." This incident is one of the most interesting of its kind, because there is an unusually complete record of what took place. Early in 1519 the Ratisbon synagogue was razed to the ground and the Jews were expelled from the town by order of the town council, of which Altdorfer at the time was a member. Before it was razed, however, he seized the opportunity to make two etchings of the interior, which are interesting as the first etchings of actual architecture as distinct from the architecture of fantasy. On the site of the destroyed synagogue there was erected in March, 1519, a little wooden chapel in which was installed a wooden figure of the Virgin that soon acquired a great reputation for the miracles that it worked. The result was that pilgrimages from the country round rapidly sprang up, the peasants coming directly from the fields with their rakes and sickles to have their ills cured. The situation soon got so scandalous that many protests were made by the Protestants, even Durer himself writing on the margin of his impression of Ostendorfer's woodcut of the scene about the chapel (Passavant, iii, 312, 313) : "1523. This spectre has set itself up at Ratisbon against the Holy Scripture, and by decree of the Bishop, for reasons of temporal benefits, it has not been abolished. God help us that we should not so dishonor His precious mother but (honor her) in Christ Jesus. Amen." Altdorfer himself actually contributed a banner painted in the image's honor, which can be seen hanging from the steeple of the chapel in Ostendorfer's print. More than this, he turned the occasion to one of personal profit by preparing and putting on the market a number of woodcuts of the wonder-working figure.

The most important of these prints, historically, is the one that is known by the name of the image itself, Die Schoene Maria von Regensburg (B. 51). It is one of the largest of his woodcuts, and although not a chiaroscuro, is none the less a highly developed example of color-printing, as impressions are known in which there are five printed colors in addition to the black key-block. As a work of art it has little enough value, but as the most ambitious of all the early at-tempts at color-printing it has its historical interest, and for the curious-minded it is one of the first fully fledged examples of the printed religious chromo that we have.

Of the remaining four woodcuts devoted to the "Schoene Maria," one is a rather large design for an altar and reredos (B. 50) that would seem to have been prepared for the new stone church erected in place of the wooden chapel where she was originally installed. This and the small figure of the Virgin (B. 48), which seems to be the earliest of the "Schoene Maria" cuts, are not especially interesting, but their failings in this respect are more than atoned for by the great beauty of The Virgin and Suppliant (B. 49) and The Rest at the Fountain (B. 59), in each of which the Virgin is quite evidently the "Schoene Maria." These two prints are technically much alike, being marked by a gentle suavity of color, composition, and movement that distinguishes them among all the master's woodcuts. In each of them the cutting is extraordinary, the wall back of the Suppliant's head, for instance, being a quite authentic example of white-line cutting, if I remember correctly the only one that occurs in Altdorfer's work. While the Suppliant is beautiful in its sentiment and its carefully planned spacing, it is not so fine as The Rest at the Fountain, which I think is probably, all things considered, the most successful of Altdorfer's woodcuts. In it the Holy Family is to be seen in a chapel off some large church or building, standing by a fountain to the designing of which Altdorfer brought all his great knowledge and love of the silver-smith's art; for, with its beautiful design, intricate ornament, and fluted sides, it resembles far more some great silver ornament than a stone fountain, its sides being literally ribbed with fancy. The Virgin holds the infant Christ on the edge of the basin, while an angel peeps over her shoulder and two more at the opposite side of the fountain are intent on the splash of the water that falls on their hands from one of the spouts. Above and over all is the complicated vaulting of the chapel roof, whose ribs, con-verging down the center of the picture, make a delightful linear web. The cutting is probably more sensitive than in any of the other large Altdorfer cuts, really approaching in delicacy the work of Durer's cutter Andrea, and giving a quite marvelous facsimile of the pen line. As illustration the print is not so moving nor so able as a number of the others, but in its quiet dignity, lovely spacing, and delightful play of fancy it is surely one of the finest compositions that Renaissance Germany has to offer us.

ALTDORFER'S woodcuts constitute all but the smallest part of his artistic baggage, and, from his own point of view, probably the least important, since however deliberately and seriously done, they have an experimental quality which indicates that they were produced in the interludes of a busy and worldly life. To the fact that they represent asides in his career we may attribute, in a measure, the surprising development of the medium displayed in the cuts, for in changing his task the busy architect and builder undoubtedly carried with him not only the thoroughness and inventiveness demanded by his regular calling, but also his ready grasp of the nature and capabilities of materials. In the same way, disciplined by the everyday necessity of making things that "worked," he wasted no effort in pretty tricks or temperamental attitudes, and confined himself cheerfully within his well-recognized limitations. But, just as his art gained in "workability," sureness, and poise from the practical necessities of his life, so also it suffered, for with all its beauty and resource, like the artistic work of all professional men, it shows a lack of high seriousness of purpose—an accusation that in its implications is only short of the highest praise.

Yet if Altdorfer, in his woodcuts, failed to reach the heights at times achieved by Durer and Holbein, he is nevertheless the only German who can aspire to be remembered with them, the qualities of his defects making of him not only the most charming and delightful of all German artists, but one of the great illustrators of all time.

For further information about Albrecht Altdorfer:
Albrecht Altdorfer Biography
The Early German Painters
German Painting


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