The Venetian Jacopo de’ Barbari is considered one of the most enigmatic and simultaneously most interesting artists of the turn of the 16th century. In art history, he is often described as the “wrong-way driver” who bucked the general trend of the Renaissance: while Netherlandish and German artists, for instance Albrecht Dürer, were travelling south and taking inspiration from Italian art, de’ Barbari travelled in the opposite direction from south to north. From 1500 until his death (before?) 1516, he worked as court painter in a number of royal courts north of the Alps, including for Maximilian I in Nuremberg (1500–1503), Frederick the Wise in Wittenberg (1503–1505) and for Margaret of Austria in Mechelen (1511–1515/16), where he remained until the end of his life.
The relationship between the recently arrived Jacopo de’ Barbari and his native colleagues was not always without friction. For instance, when the Italian sought a long-term position as court artist for Frederick the Wise, he had to concede defeat to his rival Lucas Cranach. Albrecht Dürer, on the other hand, seems at first to have been reasonably taken by his Italian colleague, but when de’ Barbari refused to share his insights into the theory of proportion, Dürer reacted with annoyance.
There are 29 or 30 surviving engravings by Jacopo de’ Barbari, from which the Kupferstichkabinett is exhibiting a selection of 24 prints in a one-room show at the Gemäldegalerie. The works evidence all the variety, as well as the apparent contradictions, of the Renaissance between antique fantasies and Christian subject matter. The prints are wonderful documents of the cultural transfer of the period. In an unparalleled manner, they combine the stylistic and motific elements and characteristics of Italian, German and Netherlandish art and as such shaped the work of many other artists. Through his graphic work, de’ Barbari shows himself to be a particularly unique and influential artistic figure of a positively European dimension.
One-room show presented by the Kupferstichkabinett in the Gemäldegalerie
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