Imperial Augsburg: Renaissance Prints And Drawings Up At Blanton Museum

Erhard Ratdolt (printer) (German [Augsburg], Fifteenth Century), “Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and Saint John,” 1491, color woodcut printed in black, red, blue, brown, olive and yellow and hand colored in blue, pinkish-beige and some touches of red; on vellum. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

AUSTIN, TEXAS — The Blanton Museum of Art is showing a selection of works from Augsburg, a wealthy German city and center of trade known for its innovative printmaking techniques and its important role in the spread of Renaissance ideas from Italy. On view though January 5, this is the first exhibition in the United States to focus on Augsburg’s artistic achievements in the late Fifteenth and early Sixteenth Centuries, and works to advance the scholarship of one of Germany’s oldest cities whose rich Renaissance heritage has long been eclipsed.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and supplemented with loans from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress and other private and public collections. Emphasizing the rich tradition of paper and metal works produced in Augsburg spanning 1475–1540, the exhibition reveals how, through its commercial ties to Italy, Augsburg was one of the first German cities to emulate the Italian Renaissance style as well as its cultivation of humanism and revival of antiquity.

Situated in southwest Bavaria along the Alpine pass into Italy, Augsburg was founded as a Roman military fortress in 15 BCE by Emperor Augustus. During the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459–1519), Augsburg became the location of the Imperial Diet. The patronage of the Habsburg Court and the rise of wealthy banking houses fostered a thriving environment with a diverse artistic community generating a prosperous center of manufacturing, printing and armory production.

The exhibition features more than 100 works of art, including prints and drawings by Daniel Hopfer, Erhard Ratdolt, Hans Burgkmair and others focusing on religious and secular life in Augsburg. Emphasis is placed on the examination of new printing techniques born out of Augsburg. Color printing was pioneered by Augsburg native Erhard Ratdolt (1447–1528), and further developed by Hans Burgkmair (1472–1531) and Jost de Negker (1485–1544).

Featured in the exhibition is an impression of Ratdolt’s “Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and Saint John,” the earliest extant, multifigured, color printed woodcut in the Western world printed with six distinct colors. New scholarship reveals that etching as a printing technique was first explored in Augsburg by armor etcher Daniel Hopfer (circa 1470–1536).

Alongside works on paper, the exhibition includes a Sixteenth Century suit of armor etched in the manner of Hopfer to exemplify the close connection between armor etchers and printmakers. A style of armor characterized by elaborate fluting and etching became popular during the later half of Maximilian I’s reign.

The Blanton Museum of Art is at the University of Texas at Austin, 200 East Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard. For information, 512-471-7324 or www.blantonmuseum.org.

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