Stylistic Change in Southern Germany from Late Gothic to the Renaissance – Augsburg Stained Glass in the Circle of Hans Holbein the Elder and Jörg Breu the Elder
The following piece is the third in our series of poster presentations from the 27th International Colloquium of the Corpus Vitrearum in York in July 2014. It was revised for publication in Vidimus.….
Augsburg is widely regarded by art historians as the ‘Renaissance city’, since it was there that the earliest reception in Germany of the contemporary Italian style took place, in the early 16th century. This coincided with a period of great economic and artistic growth in the city. One important project from this time is the Fugger Chapel, the earliest sacral architecture of the German Renaissance [Fig. 1]. It is also important to note however that the Late Gothic tradition persists and only fades at a slow pace, as is witnessed by the nave of the Church of Sts Ulrich and Afra, the latest important sacral building in the Late Gothic style in Swabia. Thus it can be said Augsburg was a place of effervescent renewal within a carefully maintained tradition.
In parallel with these architectural styles, stained glass illustrates the two aspects of this artistic evolution particularly well, when one takes into account the fact that most of the extant material in Augsburg stems from the circles of Hans Holbein the Elder (c.1465–1524) and Jörg Breu the Elder (c.1475–1537). Both of them were well-known painters who had successful workshops in the city. While Holbein worked for the Church of Sts Ulrich and Afra, Breu was commissioned by Fugger himself for his chapel. A stained-glass cycle originally installed in the Abtskapelle at Sts Ulrich and Afra, although executed by the workshop of Gumpolt Giltlinger (1455–1522), can be ascribed stylistically to Holbein [Fig. 2]. Here large Late Gothic lancets are filled with depictions of standing figures of saints, before damask hangings and within microarchitectural constructions that function as frames for the figures. These architectural elements evoke the vault of the Simpertkapelle that supports the Abtskapelle [Fig. 3]. This similarity between the painted architectural elements on the glass and the ornamental form of the Simpertkapelle vault is not found in works attributable to the Strasbourg Werkstattgemeinschaft (workshop cooperative), the dominant German maker of stained glass in the Late Gothic period, which exported its work across Europe, including to Augsburg Cathedral [Fig. 4]. This indicates that the standing figures are domestic products from Augsburg.
The nave of Sts Ulrich and Afra was completed in 1499, that is, about ten years before the construction of the Fugger Chapel in c.1509. For the chapel Breu painted the wings of the pipe-organ case, and he is regarded as the designer of the round windows above the organ, which depict Fugger’s coat of arms surrounded by winged putti heads [Fig. 5]. These putti are indicative of the modern style imported from Italy. Putti are mentioned for the first time in Augsburg around 1515 in a document concerning sculptures in the town hall, which describes these small child angels as a ‘new type of Italian art’. In contrast to the putti, Holbein’s standing figures and floating angels in works such as the Last Judgment at Eichstätt (c.1505) [Fig. 6], represent the Late Gothic style of Flemish painting and are an example of the output of the Strasbourg workshop cooperative. This mixture of styles is exemplified in a 1512-dated stained-glass scheme in the parish church in Oberurbach in the diocese of Augsburg [Fig. 7]. Becksmann suggests that Leonhard Beck (d.1542), one of Holbein’s pupils, can be associated with in the glazing. Oberurbach’s glass depicts architectural frames in Renaissance style, with a putto sitting on the central arch, while an angel floats in the sky in the scene of Christ on the Mount of Olives. Oberurbach’s fictive architecture is not synchronized with the building that houses the glass, whose windows have traceries in Gothic style, unlike the Holbein-Giltlinger work in the nave of the Church of Sts Ulrich and Afra. The idea of stained glass as a part of a wider architectural setting can be seen to hold true only for Sts Ulrich and Afra. In contrast to immobile buildings however, mobile glass functioned as an artistic carrier, passing on Augsburg’s contemporary style to neighbouring places such as in Oberurbach.…….
Breu’s designs were used for secular buildings much more than for sacral architecture. The series of glass roundels with war and hunting scenes featuring the Emperor Maximilian is an example, made for the new tower of Maximilian’s hunting lodge at Lermoos in the Tirol [Fig. 8]. A document indicates that the Augsburg court painter Hans Knoder (fl.1508–1522 in Augsburg) was the commissioned painter of this series, but the design can be attributed stylistically to Breu. Unfortunately, only a small number of roundels with war scenes are extant, and they are much smaller than the monumental panels in the above-mentioned churches. Each roundel measures c.25cm in diameter, and consists of a unipartite panel in white glass with lines painted in pale-black vitreous paint, and some parts coloured with yellow stain and sanguine. In contrast to the simple colouring, a complex imaginary troop formation dominates the field in one of the roundels. The figures are arranged on a landscape, foreshortened in bird’s-eye view, that is reminiscent of the achievements of the Italian Renaissance and its technical theories. Moreover, Dornhöffer mentions that this composition may be compared to the miniatures of Maximilian’s Triumphal Procession [Fig. 9]. These miniatures are the work of Albrecht Altdorfer and his workshop, and were probably completed by 1516. They played an important role in displaying the power and achievements of both Maximilian and his empire.………
Another series of stained-glass roundels depicts the Labours of the Months [Fig. 10], and several museums store exemplars of these drawings. They were originally designed by Jörg Breu for Georg II Hoechstetter, by 1521 at the latest. On the one hand, the choice of the subject is rather traditional, as the Labours were often illustrated in books of hours in the Middle Ages. On the other hand, religious subjects have disappeared almost completely from this series. Dormeier points out that Breu’s designs depict the contemporary life of the city and its patricians, rather than traditional rural scenes. Such an approach could have been derived from Flemish illumination, but the manifold copies of these drawings show that the series may have been a very new type of representation for this kind of subject. The same designs were used again subsequently, for four panel paintings, where the twelve scenes of the roundels are reconfigured into four square pictures [Fig. 11]. These panel paintings include more images of leisure activities, such as tournaments, games, children’s recreation etc., than the roundels. This transfer reveals that stained glass acted as a mediator between different media, and it is also worth noting that genre scenes appeared earlier in stained glass than in panel painting in Augsburg.…..
The radical changes between the monumental stained glass and the roundels seems to represent the change from the ideal of Gothic churches – striving to realize the heavenly Jerusalem – to humanistic interest in this world. Furthermore, whether the Lermoos roundels were commissioned by the emperor or not, their modest scale gives the impression that they were executed not as artistic objects, but as pictorial documents.
Bacher et al. 2007
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Beutler and Thiem 1960
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L. Hendrix, cat. nos. 77–152, in B. Butts, L. Hendrix et al., Painting on Light: Drawings and Stained Glass in the Age of Dürer and Holbein, Los Angeles, 2000, pp. 201–312
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Soffner and Wolf 2004
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1. Laß 2007, p. 263.
2. Landgraf 2011, p. 927; Soffner and Wolf 2004.
3. Teget-Welz 2011, p. 827; Dirr 1909; Beutler and Thiem 1960, pp. 151–56.
4. Halm 1928, p. 423.
5. Bellot 2010, p. 446; Eser 2000, p. 333.
6. Scholz 2000, p. 37; Becksmann 1986, pp. 135–36.
7. Bacher et al. 2007, p. 451.
8. Hendrix 2000, p. 214; Dornhöffer 1897, p. 8.
9. Hendrix 2000, p. 214; Winzinger 1972, p. 39.
10. Hendrix 2000, p. 215; Wegner 1959, p. 26.
11. Dormeier 1994a, p. 123.
12. Dormeier 1994a, p. 124.
13. Dormeier 1994b.