1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Schongauer, Martin

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SCHONGAUER (or Shön), MARTIN (c. 1445–c. 1488), the most able engraver and painter of the early German school. His father was a goldsmith named Casper, a native of Augsburg, who had settled at Colmar, where the chief part of Martin’s life was spent.[1] Schongauer established at Colmar a very important school of engraving, out of which grew the “little masters”of the succeeding generation, and a large group of Nuremberg artists. As a painter, Schongauer was a pupil of the Flemish Roger van der Weyden the Elder, and his rare existing pictures closely resemble, both in splendour of colour and exquisite minuteness of execution, the best works of contemporary art in Flanders. Among the very few paintings which can with certainty be attributed to him, the chief is a magnificent altarpiece in the church of St Martin at Colmar. The Colmar Museum possesses eleven panels by him, and a small panel of “David with Goliath’s Head” in the Munich Gallery is attributed to him. The miniature painting of the “Death of the Virgin” in the English National Gallery is probably the work of some pupil.[2] In 1488 Schongauer died at Colmar, according to the register of St Martin’s church. Other authorities state that his death, occurred in 1491.

The main work of Schongauer’s life was the production of a large number of beautiful engravings, which were largely sold, not only in Germany, but also in Italy and even in England. Vasari says that Michelangelo copied one of his engravings the “Trial of St Anthony.”[3] Schongauer was known in Italy by the names “Bel Martino” and “Martino d’Anversa.” His subjects are always religious; more than 130 prints from copper by his hand are known, and about 100 more are the production of his bottega.[4] Most of his pupils’ plates as well as his own are signed M+S. Among the most beautiful of Schongauer’s engravings are the series of the “Passion” and the “Death and Coronation of the Virgin,” and the series of the “Wise and Foolish Virgins.” All are remarkable for their miniature-like treatment, their brilliant touch, and their chromatic force. Some, such as the “Death of the Virgin” and the “Adoration of the Magi” are richly-filled compositions of many figures, treated with much largeness of style in spite of their minute scale.

The British Museum possesses a fine collection of Schongauer’s prints. Fine facsimiles of his engravings have been produced by Armand-Durand with text by Duplessis (Paris, 1881).

  1. The date of Schongauer’s birth is usually given wrongly as c. 1420; he was really born twenty-five or thirty years later, and is mentioned by A. Dürer as being a young apprentice in 1470. His portrait in the Munich Pinakothek is now known to be a copy by Burgkmair, painted after 1510, from an original of 1483 not 1453 as has been supposed. The date (1499) for Schongauer s deatn.wntten on the back of the panel by Burgkmair, is obviously a blunder; see Hensler in Naumann’s Archiv (1867), p. 129, and Wurzbach, M. Schongauer (Vienna, 1880). These contradict the view of Goutzwiller, in his Martin Schongauer et son école (Paris, 1875). Cf. Schnaase, “Gesch. M. Schongauers,”in the Mittheil. der K. K. Commission (1863), No. 7.
  2. Another painting of the same subject in the Doria Palace in Rome (usually attributed to Dürer) is given to Schongauer by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Flemish Painters (London, 1872), p. 359; but the execution is not equal to Schongauer’s wonderful touch.
  3. An interesting example of Schongauer’s popularity in Italy is given by the lovely Faenza plate in the British Museum, on which is painted a copy of Martin’s beautiful engraving of the “Death of the Virgin.”
  4. See Bartsch, Peintre Graveur, and Willshire, Ancient Prints, best edition of 1877. According to a German tradition Schongauer was the inventor of printing from metal plates; he certainly was one of the first who brought the art to perfection. See an interesting article by Sidney Colvin in the Jahrbuch der k. preussischen Kunstsammlung, vi. p. 69 (Berlin, 1885).