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THE FRANCONIAN, BAVARIAN, AND OTHER GERMAN ARTISTS AND WORKSHOPS OF THE END OF THE GOTHIC PERIOD
IT is to be regretted that we are in possession of so few names of importance which can be attached to the crowd of sculptured work still remaining in the churches throughout the country, or now transferred to many museums and private collections in Germany and elsewhere. At the same time it must be repeated that the merit is very unequal. There are masterpieces, but there is also a vast quantity of poor work which has little call for notice beyond its curiosity value and the sentiment which may attach to the subject, or local interest. Concerning such things monographs are not wanting. The number of artists, and of work, of the first class to which it is necessary to refer in any detail, is therefore restricted: limited, in fact, to hardly more than half-a-dozen names during the last century of Gothic art and the transition. Of the later date, the workers in boxwood and the medallionists will furnish a separate chapter. What we shall be concerned with is almost exclusively religious art in the form of retables and altarpieces, and the statuettes and groups which in many cases were made for them. But, when all is said and done, there still remains the greatest doubt to whom, amongst those named, we can definitely assign certain of the most important pieces. FRANCONIAN SCHOOLS
Signed work is of the extremest rarity, and documentary evidence almost wholly wanting. We are ignorant even of the birthplaces and dates of birth of Veit Stoss or of Riemenschneider.
The pervading similarity of style and technique, outside the exceptional pieces which will be selected, has already been noticed. It must be borne in mind that these men worked also in stone or bronze, and we must be prepared to find that in many cases the methods and actual technique of the sculpture in stone and wood are almost indistinguishable. In addition, painter and sculptor were in Germany, as elsewhere, intimately connected and dependent on each other. Workshops and schools existed which were controlled or directed by such masters as Wohlgemut, and work turned out commercially to order. Imitation and copying from the masters of engraving were rife, and if there were certain mannerisms they were often those which were fashionable, and common alike to the graphic and plastic arts. Nothing would be more satisfactory than, could we but do so, to feel that we could distinguish a Riemenschneider by a mannerism in style or execution which could be called peculiar to him and to no other. We can get near this, it is true, as will be shown later on, but no further. Probably the masters of the boxwood models for medals, or for figures, did not confine themselves to this small sculpture alone, but, at least in their earlier days, would have had a practical acquaintance with, and have worked in the large ateliers whence proceeded the great altarpieces of Creglingen or of Schwabach. Doubtless there were boxwood carvers before Hans Schwarz. But with him we are brought to the beginnings of the Reformation, when the disuse of images, or at least the demand for them, must have greatly diminished. Yet the zeal of the iconoclasts does not appear to have affected Germany in the way it did England or Flanders. To this day some of the finest carved altarpieces with images, or the great crucifixes of the Roods, are to be found in the Protestant churches. But its effects, and the revival of classical ideas in art, turned the attention of artists towards the glorification of individuals rather than to the illustration of devotional ideas. Piety was no longer the sole incentive. Disregard for fame gave place, happily for posterity, to a more general desire to perpetuate a name. Besides the statuary work of the great altarpieces, the architectural surroundings or framings—often with elaborate canopy work and plantform tracery—cannot be left entirely out of account, though it is not now proposed to deal with it in detail. There is ample material to form a separate subject, and the names of some carvers who seem to have been especially devoted to it are known. For example, the characteristic framing of the altarpiece of the Precious Blood at Rothenburg is ascribed to one Erhart. Foliage and intertwining open work of branches and tendrils, often of a wild and thorny character, were much affected, especially for the curtain-like veil which often hangs from the upper parts of the shrine. There was room for the exercise of any amount of capricious fancy and pleasant play of branch and leaf-work, flowing in every direction, sometimes abruptly broken off, sometimes mingling with and losing itself in purely architectural motives of corbel or cul-de-lampe; disguised in pinnacle form, or a pinnacle itself curled and twisted into the shape of a half unfolded leaf or opening bud. A wilderness of vegetation and absence of symmetry in accordance with nature's own methods, a naturalism as of things really growing, and in all stages of growth from the bud to the full bloom, or already decaying leaf or stem, a perpetual reminder of growth on earth even in its unspoken application to the holier themes with which it was connected—all this FRANCONIAN SCHOOL
may be found carved out of a material than which no other is so appropriate, though it is found also in abundance in stone sculpture, in the ironworker's forgings, or the goldsmith's hammered metal-work. We are bound to connect much fine work with the produc
one master of many pupils—and he a painter who perhaps never carved himself, but left this part of his altarpieces to his pupils and assistants—there would be naturally a great similarity in style. His young men were no doubt allowed to follow pretty freely their own bent, with the advantage of his advice and supervision. Little is known of those who worked in the same studio as Riemenschneider, but the names, at least, of many of his contemporaries may be gathered from the municipal archives of Wiirzburg. These young artists travelled largely, and learnt to assimilate foreign styles, interchanging ideas also with all parts of Germany, with the Rhine or Baltic provinces, with Thuringia and Saxony, Bavaria and the Tyrol, Bohemia and Poland. Riemenschneider himself is first included in the list in 1483, but as painter associate only, not as sculptor. Of others, who may also have attained an equally high standing, we know only the names. With him were contemporaries: for instance, Lorenz Mull of Landsberg, Michael Bolz of Volkach, Michael Weiss, Ulrich Hagenfurter, Paul Polsterer, Hans Metz, and others, but these are but names. Of their work and manner we know nothing. Amongst them may lie concealed, perhaps, even so sympathetic and great a master as the creator of the Nurnberg Madonna. It would seem to be the fashion, at present, to ascribe to Riemenschneider anything remarkable of the school, especially if it is distinguished by a certain type of face and curling hair. It is unfortunate that it is only for the less distinguished work that we are able to rely on documentary evidence. His reputation, however,
In an atelier under need not rest upon what is merely conjecture, as in the case of the St. Anne group and the Adam and Eve busts at Kensington, while we may give him with certainty such fine work as the effigy in stone of the Prince-Bishop Rudolph von Scherenberg in Wiirzburg cathedral. There is a good reproduction of this monument in the gallery of casts at Kensington.