Renaissance German
German art of the 15th century was dominated by many local, independent schools. Largely based on the Gothic INTERNATIONAL STYLE, German art received important influences from the Netherlands that intensified as the century progressed. The painter-sculptor Hans Multscher displayed a typically German blend of Gothic conventions, naturalistic observation, and a strange fascination with brutal aspects of human behavior. In Basel the painter Konrad WITZ created a severe and impressive style indebted to van Eyck; whereas the reputed pupil of Rogier van der Weyden, the painter-engraver Martin SCHONGAUER, emerged, through his graphic work, as an incredibly refined draftsman, eventually to serve as a model for Albrecht DURER.

The Renaissance in Germany is dominated by the great genius of Durer, both a painter and engraver. His astonishing and unequaled performances in woodcut and engraving permanently transformed the graphic arts and greatly enhanced their potential. Durer's fascination with the world, his curiosity about the fundamental principles and theories that governed nature, and his desire to express its various beauties in ideal, monumental form, were features shared with Italian artists. It was in fact through his two visits to Italy, and contact there with such figures as Giovanni Bellini, that Durer was stimulated to develop his unique style.

The art of Durer's contemporary Mathias Grunewald, most fully represented by the multipaneled Isenheim Altarpiece (1515; Musee d'Unterlinden, Colmar, France), is by contrast filled with high-pitched expressive power conveyed through agonized human forms, and brilliant, piercing color schemes. The visionary and irrational aspect of Grunewald's art, rooted in the medieval world, is one of many echoes of the past that were to repeat themselves many times in the subsequent development of German art. Both Durer and Grunewald had to contend personally with the spiritual and intellectual foment caused by the Protestant Reformation, which, although of profound religious and social consequence, produced no characteristic form of artistic expression.

So personal had been Durer's involvement with southern Renaissance ideals, that no established school or tradition developed in his wake. The DANUBE SCHOOL--whose principal members, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Altdorfer, and Wolf HUBER, reflected an extraordinary awakening of interest in landscape painting--was a loose grouping of masters. Despite their fascinating diversity they shared a common sympathy for miniaturizing anticlassical tendencies derived from late Gothic art.

Hans Holbein the Younger, a painter of great talent and insight, was originally a member of the Augsburg school, a rival in importance to that in Nuremberg. He later practiced in Basel, and finally in England as court painter to Henry VIII, developing in the process a psychologically penetrating precise style of portraiture that paralleled in many ways work being done simultaneously in Italy and France.