Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Israhel van Meckenem

Recently I became aware of a fact concerning Israhel van Meckenem (c1445-1503).  It appears as if 90% of the works his workshop produced were copies of other shops and artists.  According to the Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin, Vol. XVII, Feb 1919, No. 99, Pgs 7-8:
Israhel van Meckenem was accounted one of the greatest masters by his contemporaries; two generations later he was even believed to be the inventor of engraving and the teacher of Martin Schongauer.  The excessively high esteem in which his work was held gradually gave place to undeserved neglect, and he was thought to be devoid of all originality, significant only as a prolific copyist and as a reworker of other men's plates.  Gradually he is regaining his rightful place, and although out of a total of five hundred and fifty-eight engravings catalogued by Geisberg ninety-six only appear to be original, there are among them masterpieces which rank with the best productions of his time, and go far to prove that Van Meckenem could well have dispensed with other men's designs.  Technically (as well as in the subject matter of his earliest plates) he owes much to his father, the Master of the Berlin Passion, and to the Master of Saint Erasmus; but even more to Master E.S., "the Van Eyck of engraving" (over three hundred of whose prints he copied), who, in his turn, derives from the Master of the Playing Cards, the earliest engraver whose work has come down to us.  Strangely enough, though Israhel copied fifty-six of Martin Schongauer's engravings, twelve by the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet, and, toward the end of his life, four by Dürer, his style remains individual and distinctive; many layers of fine lines, laid at an acute angle, shade and model the faces and figures; scratched rather than engraved - true "dry point" work.
So which works belong to Israhel van Meckenem as the artist and not copiest?  I made a very rough outline of the information provided in the above article as well as information I acquired from various other places and I will update it periodically as I find more information.

A.  558-570 images - Estimated attributions to IvM as both artist and copiest
B.  96 images - Estimated IvM originals
  1. Small Passion, c1475 - 53 images?
  2. Large Passion, c1480 - 11 images (It would have been considered 12 images, but "The Entombment" was Schongauer's.)
  3. Israhel van Meckenem and his wife, c1480-90s
  4. Scenes of Daily Life, c1495 - 14 images I've found so far
  5. Fanciful Composition - A hunter and his dogs being roasted by the hare they were hunting.
  6. Road to Calvary?, c1470-80
  7. 15 images remaining
C.  300+ images - Master E.S. copies (active 1440-1467)
D.  56 images - Martin Schongauer copies (c1448-91; Schongauer had approximately 115 original engravings.)
  1. The Virgins series, c1483 (by Schongauer, uncertain when IvM copied them) - 10 images (5 wise, 5 foolish)
  2. "The Entombment" from the Large Passion, c1480
  3. St. Martin
  4. St. Antony
  5. Death of the Virgin
  6. The Griffin
  7. 41 images remaining
E.  12 images - Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet copies (active 1470-90) - There are some claims that this is also Meister des Hausbuch.
F.  4 images - Albrecht Dürer copies
  1. The Holy Family with the Locust
  2. The Promenade, c1496-98 (by Dürer)
  3. The Four Naked Women or The Four Witches
  4. ?
G.  ? - Hans Holbein, draughtsman for Life of the Virgin
H.  ? - Meister des Hausbuch copies - There are some claims that this is also the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet.
  1. Saint Christopher, c1480-90 (Meckenem's copy)
  2. The Lovers, c1490 (Meckenem's copy)
  3. Coat of Arms with Tumbling Boy, c? (Most likely after Hausbuch)

Over half of Meckenem's copies are from Master E.S., who was an engraver from 1440-67. Other than this, it appears as if the balance of his copies and personal work fell into contemporary lines, or roughly 1466-1503.  There are some that claim his work was pirating other engravers and some that would claim, at least in the case of Master E.S., that the plates were given to him for reproduction.  I have yet been unable to substantiate either of these claims, but at least I know that studying his personal "Scenes of Daily Life" are still valid and viable for around 1495.

Further reading:
A short history of engraving & etching, for the use of collectors and students by Arthur Mayger Hind, 1908, Pg 34

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