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Entries in German Renaissance (2)


The Nativity by Hans Baldung-Grien

Hans Baldung-Grien - Nativity -1520 - Oil on wood, 105,5 x 70,4 cm - Alte Pinakothek, Munich (click photo for larger image)Today’s featured work is an idyllic representation of the frequently painted subject of the Nativity, by one of the most outstanding (and peculiar) German Renaissance artists, Hans Baldung Grien (ca. 1484-1545). Balding served as an assistant to Albrecht Dürer, whose influence is apparent in his early works. The demonic energy of his later style is closer to that of Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528).

By electing to portray the main figures simply and quietly at the back of the stable, Baldung draws the eye first to the ruined architecture and the ox and ass seen in larger scale on the left. His construction of the interior embraces the opposite poles of precise foreshortening—as in the incisively drawn plinth in the foreground—and perspective uncertainty, something heightened by the differences in scale between animals and the figures. However, viewer irritation and Mannerist alienation are quite clearly not the artist's aims.

With the help of painted light, whose source seems to lie beyond the natural world, Baldung portrays the miracle of the Holy Night with what is (for him) an unusual depth of feeling. The infant Jesus, held in his swaddling bands by putti, seems to radiate light onto Joseph's red coat and Mary's hands and face. Through the brick archway in the cracked, plastered wall, we glimpse a second miraculous vision. An angel encircled by a radiant glory is appearing to a shepherd watching his flock. The fusion of light and shade and the soft modulation of the contours suggest that Baldung may have come into contact with the Danube School.


“The Old Crow”

Albrecht Dürer - Agnes Dürer as St. Anne - 1519 - Brush on gray primed paper, 395 x 292 mm (approx. 15.5 x 11.5 in) - Graphische Sammlung Albertina, ViennaAgnes Free was a wealthy Nuremberg art dealer and the wife of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). He often referred to Agnes as an “old crow. Nevertheless, during their marriage, which was childless, she was portrayed by Dürer repeatedly. Although the marriage wasn’t without some angst—this touching portrait was painted on their 27th wedding anniversary. Agnes outlived her husband, and was his sole heir. Albrecht Dürer's father, a goldsmith, was an emigrant from present-day Hungary. Durer’s parents had 18 children—hence very little money. His marriage to Agnes was quite fortuitous.