Martin Schongauer

(c. 1440—1491)

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(b ?Colmar, Alsace, ?c.1440; d Breisach am Rhein, nr. Colmar, 2 Feb. 1491).

German engraver and painter, active in Colmar, the best-known member of a family of artists (his father and two of his brothers were goldsmiths; two other brothers were painters and engravers). His early years are obscure and estimates of his birthdate range from c.1435 to c.1450; the first known documentary reference to him is of 1465, when he was a student at Leipzig University. In his day he was probably the most famous artist in Germany: the young Dürer hoped to study in his workshop, but when he arrived in Colmar in 1492 the master had recently died (probably of plague). By this time his reputation had also spread outside his own country: both Vasari and Condivi record that the very young Michelangelo c.1488) made a drawn or painted copy of Schongauer's engraving of the Temptation of St Anthony (some authorities identify this copy with a small panel painting acquired by the Kimbell Art Museum, Forth Worth, in 2009. Although Schongauer was renowned as a painter, few surviving pictures can be confidently attributed to him: the most important, and the only dated example, is the Madonna in the Rose Garden (1473, Dominican church, Colmar). However, about 115 of his engravings are known (none dated, but all bearing his initials) and these show that he was the greatest master of the technique before Dürer. He was strongly influenced by Netherlandish art, above all by Rogier van der Weyden, but Schongauer had a powerful imagination of his own. Most of his prints are on religious themes, but there are also various secular subjects, including a scene of two apprentices fighting. He brought a new richness and maturity to engraving, expanding the range of tones and textures, so that an art that had previously been the domain of the goldsmith took on a more painterly quality. The gracefulness of his work became legendary, giving rise to the nicknames ‘Hübsch (“charming”) Martin’ and ‘Schön (“beautiful”) Martin’.

Subjects: Art — History by Period.

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