About German Painting

MANUSCRIPT illuminations and miniature paintings (ninth and tenth centuries) may be seen in Munich Library, Imperial Library, Paris, and British Museum.

Good examples of the earliest German wall painting in existence are in Oberzell (tenth century) ; in Lower Church of Schwarzrheindorf (twelfth century) ; in Church of St. Michael, Hildersheim ; Brunswick and Bamberg Cathedrals (thirteenth century). These consist of simple figures, with crude architectural ornaments on a solid blue ground.

History records the name of no painter of influence until the early part of the fifteenth century.

German painting varies in character in different portions of the country, some parts being subject to Italian influence, some to French, and some to the early Flemish.

Characteristics.— Religious subjects are found exclusively in early painting and indeed in the great mass of German painting of all the centuries.

More grace and refinement are found in those sections that lie along the Rhine. As a whole, German painting is more devoted to the representation of character than of beauty. The portrait dominates the ideal picture. It is beyond the Flemish in perspective, proportion, and truth-fulness of representation; behind it in its indication of outline and the frequently hatched shadows which are so injurious to artistic effect.

Details are carefully noted and expressed. The influence of wood engraving (first employed in this country), practised by many artists, is seen in the painting.

Meister Wilhelm, of Cologne, is the earliest name to which existing pictures of worth are attributed. He lived during the middle and latter part of the fourteenth century.

A large altar-piece in a chapel in the Cathedral of Cologne is supposed to be his work, but nothing can be attributed to him with authority.

Stephan Lochner, or Meister Stephan ( 1451), of Constance, was probably a pupil of Meister Wilhelm. In his pictures we find much dignity of composition, sentiment, and refinement of expression, with considerable harshness of drawing and exactness of detail. The figures are painted on gold backgrounds and wear many golden ornaments.

The draperies possess a Flemish angularity. Over the foregrounds are scattered flowers and tufts of grass.

The pictures are painted in tempera, on wood, and the coloring is harmonious and still rich.

Most important works :

” Madonna with Hedge of Roses,” ” Dombild ” (Cathedral picture), with centre representing the ” Adoration of the Magi.” Cologne Cathedral.

Presentation in the Temple.” Museum, Darmstadt.


There are several other famous old pictures, which are thought to have been painted at this time, whose authors are unknown. One is called, from its having been for centuries in the possession of the Lyversberg family, ” The Lyversberg Passion.” It is a series of eight compositions picturing Christ’s Passion, painted on gold grounds, and is now in the Cologne Museum. The unknown painter has received the name, ” The Master of the Lyversberg Passion.”

Others are the so-called ” Werden Pictures,” in the Abbey of Werden, near Düsseldorf.


There have been three important schools, the limits of which are not very definitely fixed : the Franconian, the Swabian, and the Saxon.


Michael Wolgemuth (1434–1519) had quite a large school in Nuremberg ; none of his pupils became famous save Albert Dürer. He was wood engraver as well as painter, and his engravings are more important than his pictures. The latter are mostly altar-pieces, in which the figures are long, lank, and stiff, and in awkward positions. Some of his single figures possess a certain pleasing dignity.

Representative works :

Series of four pictures representing scenes from the Passion of our Lord. Old Pinacothek, Munich.

Several panels, each containing the life-sized figure of a saint (parts of an altar-piece). Museum, Nuremberg.

Albert Dürer (1471-1528, born in Nuremberg, is the most famous painter of Germany. Early in his career he went to

Italy, where he spent considerable time, especially in Venice, where he formed an intimacy with Giovanni Bellini. Here he was warmly appreciated. Titian tried to imitate him in some respects ; Raphael became his devoted admirer, and is said to have adorned his studio with what drawings by the German artist he could obtain. He afterward sent several of his own drawings to Dürer “to show him his hand,” as the accompanying letter quaintly stated. These are now in Vienna. In return, Dürer sent him a life-size portrait of himself, painted by his own hand.

Dürer’s work shows that he was influenced comparatively little by Italian methods. He was a true German, and was a thinker who painted, instead of a painter who thought.

He wrote many books, some of which deal with theoretical subjects, such as a discussion concerning subtile questions of beauty ; others treat of the proportions of the human body, etc.

His subjects are chiefly religious, portrait, and imaginative. His wood engravings are very noted and numerous. He is also the reputed inventor of etching and of printing woodcuts in two colors.

Characteristics. —A powerful imagination, great originality, and endless invention. A feeling for simple grace and tenderness, for the solemn and sublime, and also a love for the mysterious. The latter is seen in his engravings more than in his paintings. (Examples : ” Melancholia,” ” Knight, Death, and the Devil.”)

His composition is often too crowded for simplicity and breadth.

His drawing, especially in his later years, is full of life and character, although there is much evidence that he always had to strive against a tendency toward stiff, hard lines and angular figures which strongly mark his early work.

He elaborated details, especially drapery and hair. His portraits are marvels of minute workmanship.

He usually failed to produce beauty, and always when he attempted a nude figure.

His draperies possess a mannerism in a certain sharpness and angularity of folds, though the large masses are often quiet and beautiful.

His coloring varies, being, in some pictures, rich and even brilliant, while in others it is sadly wanting in fulness and transparence.

His chiaroscuro is peculiar, there being so little shade. His gradations seem to be those of greater and less brilliance instead of light and dark.

His later works are marked by his best technical treatment. In these we find more breadth, a better handling and color.

Most important works :

“Crucifixion.” Gallery, Dresden.

Four Pillars of the Church,” sometimes called ” Four Temperaments.” Old Pinacothek, Munich. This has been called the first Protestant picture. Dürer was an intimate friend of Martin Luther, and is believed to have been influenced by him to renounce Catholicism. This picture (composed of two panels) urges the personal study of the Word of God.

” Burial of the Saviour,” ” Nativity,” portraits of Michael Wolgemuth and Dürer. Old Pinacothek, Munich.

“Adoration of the Trinity,” portraits. Belvidere Gallery, Vienna. Portraits. Museum, Berlin.

“Adoration of the Magi.” Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

“Adam and Eve.” Gallery, Madrid.

Hans von Kulmbach, or Hans Wagner (– 1540), was one of Dürer’s pupils, and painted some very good pictures. While by no means equal to his master in fertility and originality of invention, he possessed a greater feeling for the beautiful. He was for some years assistant in Dürer’s studio.

Good examples, especially the panels containing figures of saints, are in the Nuremberg Museum, in the Old Pinacothek, Munich, and Berlin Museum.

Hans Schauffelin (1549) imitated very closely in his best works Dürer’s manner of painting. He, however, produced many inferior pictures.

Best examples are : ” St. Bridget ” and ” Mocking of Christ ” in Nuremberg Museum; altar-piece in church at Nordlingen ; and “Scenes from the Life of Christ,” Old Pinacothek, Munich.

Hans Baldung, called Grien (1470—1546 ?), was very strongly influenced by Dürer while retaining much native originality. His work is marked by a peculiar roundness of the heads, and his drawing is often exaggerated, but the expressions of some of his faces are particularly charming.

He possessed much imagination, and freely introduced the fantastic into his pictures. He also painted portraits and made designs for woodcuts.

Representative works :

Altar-piece. Freiburg Cathedral.

Portraits. Old Pinacothek, Munich.

” Adoration of the Kings.” Berlin Museum.

A good example of his fantastic works is in the Basle Museum.

Albert Altdorfer (about 1488—1538) is a prominent painter of this school who has been called a pupil of Dürer, but confirmation of this is wanting. He is also distinguished as an engraver on both copper and wood.

A great love for the fantastic and the fabulous runs through his work.

His feeling is poetic, but his expression is stiff and labored after the manner of his time and place, yet his pictures possess a good deal of charm. His coloring is excellent.

He seldom painted other than very small figures.

From the excellence of his landscapes he has been called the creator of German landscape painting. In later life he was influenced by Italian methods. He is one of the best of the “German Little Masters,” so called from the smallness of their prints and cuts.

Best examples: Several pictures in Nuremberg Museum.

“Victory of Alexander the Great.” Old Pinacothek, Munich. This picture was taken by the French from the Gallery of Schleissheim to Paris, where Emperor Napoleon was so pleased with it that he had it hung in his palace of St. Cloud, where it remained until 1825, when it was returned with the other foreign pictures that had been gathered in the Louvre by the victorious French.

Altar-piece. Gallery, Augsburg.

” St. Francis and St. Jerome.” Berlin Museum.


Among other followers of Dürer, who are also especially known as engravers and have received the name of German Little Masters, perhaps the most important are : Sebald Beham (1500-1550), a painter of genius, who produced many coarse, humorous pictures ; Barthel Beham (1502-1540), influenced by Italian methods ; and George Pencz (1500-1550), influenced first by Dürer, afterward by Italian masters, particularly Raphael.


Mathias Grünewald (was painting 1518 –), of Aschaffenburg, is the subject of many doubtful opinions among art historians. He is believed by several authorities to have been the master of Lucas Cranach the Elder, who is the most important artist in this division of the German School.

An altar-piece attributed to him is in Old Pinacothek, Munich. An altar-piece in Gallery, Colmar, is a disputed work.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472—1553), born at Cranach, in Franconia, but settled in Saxony, has a widespread reputation, more from the number, interesting character, and eccentricity of his work than for its intrinsic art merit. He was an intimate friend of Martin Luther, and one of the earliest Protestant painters.

Characteristics.—His favorite subjects are religious and mythological, together with realistic scenes, such as hunts of wild animals. He also painted portraits. His pictures of Christ are thoroughly Protestant, and generally treat of the fall and redemption of mankind. He was particularly successful in subjects containing little children. He was fond of introducing the nude figure.

His power of invention was remarkable. His pictures are often humorous and sometimes seem to be parodies of great subjects ; this is especially true of mythological scenes.

A spirit of cheerfulness breathes through most of his works.

His composition is Gothic in style ; his drawing is rather weak.

His color is clear and varies, being most brilliant in his early pictures. The flesh tints in these are dainty, like those of infants’ flesh.

Slight knowledge of the laws of chiaroscuro and aerial perspective is shown.

Detail is most laboriously expressed.

Representative works :

” Crucifixion.” Church, Weimar. In this picture are portraits of Martin Luther and the artist, the latter being struck by a stream of blood flowing from the pierced side of the Saviour.

“Fall and Redemption of Man.” Ducal Gallery, Gotha. “Samson and Delilah.” Gallery, Augsburg.

“Ecce Homo ” and several other pictures. Dresden Gallery. Several pictures (including portraits of Martin Luther and Melancthon). Old Pinacothek, Munich.

Mythological pictures, portraits, and the humorous ” Fountain of Youth.” Berlin Museum.

” Adam ” and ” Eve.” Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Portrait of young lady. National Gallery, London.

Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515—1586) followed the style of his father, to whom many of his pictures have been attributed. His painting possesses less strength and individuality, a little more grace, and is warmer in color.

Representative works :

” Crucifixion ” (with family of donor), ” Nativity.” Stadtkirche, Wittenberg.

” John the Baptist” (attributed to his father). Old Pinacothek, Munich.

Several pictures, many of which were long attributed to his father. Dresden Gallery.


Martin Schöngauer (Martin Schön, about 1445—1488) is an acknowledged leader of this school. Little, however, is known of him, and the works attributed to him have no authority save that of tradition.

These bear internal evidence that their author was a pupil or follower of Rogier van der Weyden (Flemish School). They are decidedly Flemish in coloring, and have a certain refinement of spiritual sentiment, but are German in type. They are also thoroughly German in their treatment of weird and fantastic subjects.

The figures are marked by very voluminous draperies twisted into innumerable angular folds.

The type of head is usually the same, oval, with broad, rounded forehead and rather weak chin.

The hands are very meagre and devoid of all appearance of life.

Representative works attributed to Schöngauer :

” Virgin and Child.” St. Martin’s, Colmar.

Several pictures. Colmar Museum.

“Nativity.” Old Pinacothek, Munich.

” Death of the Virgin.” National Gallery, London. Characteristic engravings are in British Museum, London.

Frederick Herlen (was painting 1450) and Bartholomew Zeitblom (was painting 1480—1517) were followers of Martin Schongauer’s style of painting and exercised considerable influence over this school. By means of this the succeeding art bears a distinct resemblance to that of the early Flemish in its realistic conceptions and warm, softly blended color. It is not so much given to elaboration of detail and gains in spiritual beauty.

Representative works :

Herlen.— Altar-pieces, and ” Virgin and Child.” Church, Nördlingen.

Zeitblom. — Several pictures. Stuttgart Gallery.

“St. Margaret,” “St. Ursula,” “St. Bridget.” Old Pinacothek, Munich.

Portion of altar-piece. Berlin Museum.

Several pictures. Nuremberg Museum.

Hans Holbein the Elder (about 1460-1524), of Augsburg, belonged to a family famous for its painters, his father as well as his son having won reputation in the art. He followed the styles of Schöngauer and Rogier van der Weyden. He has suffered much from having been the father of a famous son, since many of his works have, until very lately, been considered to be youthful paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger.

Characteristics.—Subjects wholly religious. Earlier paintings are marked by the slender figures, quaintly stiff attitudes, gentle conventional faces, and simple long garments of the early Flemish School.

Later ones possess much more of the portrait-like character natural to German painting, and the latest are touched by the influence of Italian painting.

His last works are his best. He was very fond of architectural details ; hence we find many of these in the back-grounds of his pictures.

Representative works:

Wings of altar-piece. Cathedral, Augsburg.

Several pictures. Gallery, Augsburg.

Virgin and Child with Two Angels.” Nuremberg Museum. Several parts of altar-piece. Staedel Museum, Frankfort.

“Crucifixion,” ” Descent from Cross,” ” Entombment,” and other

pictures. Old Pinacothek, Munich.

Many sketches. Berlin Museum.

Hans Burgkmair (1473-1531), of Augsburg, son of Thomas Burgkmair, also artist, exerted considerable influence. He was less affected by early Flemish painting, and more by that of Albert Dürer than were his contemporaries, hence he was more peculiarly German. His chief aim seems to have been the portrayal of realism.

His subjects are religious and portrait. His compositions are devoid of grace and his drawing of the figure stiff and not always correct. Some of his work is harsh and possesses a mediaeval character.

His ideal heads are very portrait-like.

He represented architecture in backgrounds and used much gold in ornamentation.

When landscape is introduced, it is treated with elaborate detail and evinces a careful study of nature.

He was also a designer for wood engravings. Representative works :

Several pictures in Gallery, Augsburg.

” Virgin and Child.” Nuremberg Museum.

Altar-piece, ” Martyrdom of St. Ursula.” Gallery, Dresden.

” St. John on Patmos,” ” Queen Esther before Ahasuerus,” and other pictures. Old Pinacothek, Munich.

Portraits. Belvidere Gallery, Vienna.

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543), of Augsburg, son of Hans Holbein the Elder, is one of the greatest of German painters. While Albert Dürer is the great painter of the early period of German art, Holbein, though there is so little real difference between them in point of time, seems to belong to a much later and fuller age. He travelled widely in his own country, in the Netherlands, and in Italy, and spent his last years as court painter in England.

Unlike his German contemporaries, he painted in fresco as well as in oils, and decorated a house in Lucerne (” the house of the bailiff “), within and without, with large frescoes representing a great variety of scenes. Unfortunately, this house is no longer in existence.

He also painted frescoes in the Town Hall of Basle, a few relics of which are preserved in the museum of that city.

He is noted for his designs for wood engraving, the most important of which is a series of about fifty compositions, called the “Dance of Death.” Another series of about ninety subjects represents Old Testament scenes.

Characteristics. — Although a perfect master of realism, yet he was much affected both in methods of conception and representation by Italian painting ; therefore his work is marked by a feeling for grace and beauty.

His subjects are mostly religious and portrait ; his composition is broad, striking, and often dramatic ; sometimes it is inclined a little toward overcrowding.

His religious pictures are behind those of Dürer in reverential feeling, but the drawing and color are far better.

His figures are full and dignified, well drawn and modelled.

His ideal heads have a portrait-like character ; his portraits are wonderfully realistic and fine. The accessories of both are always careful studies from real life.

His color, clear and transparent, is used rather thinly, and the careful outline is sometimes seen through it.

His portraits usually have green backgrounds ; if very small, deep blue is often used.

He is famous for what has been called “the inimitable bloom ” of his paintings, which was given by infinite touchings and retouchings until not a stroke of the brush is visible.

Most important works :

” Last Supper.” Gallery, Basle.

“Madonna of the Burgomaster Meyer Family.” Museum, Darmstadt (a copy is in Gallery, Dresden). This picture was painted by order of Burgomaster Meyer of Basle (and in the belief of many critics), as a thank-offering for the recovery of a child from illness. In it the whole family, including the first wife, dead many years, is represented kneeling at the feet of the Madonna.

A singular controversy waged for many years regarding the authenticity of the two pictures in Darmstadt and Dresden. This was finally settled in 1872, when both were exhibited at Dresden, together with a number of the best of Holbein’s acknowledged works. It was decided by competent critics that the Darmstadt “Madonna” is executed in Holbein’s own individual manner, white that in the Dresden Gallery betrays the style of some copyist living at the close of the sixteenth century.

” Virgin and Child with Saints.” Gallery, Soleure.

Representative portraits are in Uffizi Gallery, Florence; Dresden, Cassel, Carlsruhe, and Vienna Galleries ; Berlin Museum ; Louvre, Paris ; National Gallery, London; and Windsor Castle, England. Among the most important of these are ” Morett, the Jeweler of Henry VIII,” Dresden Gallery, which for many years was attributed to Leonardo da Vinci; “George Gysen,” Berlin Museum;’ ” Nicholas Kratzer,” ” Anne of Cleves,” ” Sir Thomas More,” and ” Sir Richard Southwell,” Louvre, Paris; and members of Court of Henry VIII, Windsor Castle, England.

Martin Schaffner (was painting 1499-1535), of Ulm, was a realistic painter whose pictures are marked by much beauty and cheerfulness of expression. His composition is very graceful, and his heads are particularly well drawn, but the flesh tones are marred by a disagreeable grayish color.

Representative works :

Altar-piece. Cathedral, Ulm.

Portraits and other pictures. Museum, Nuremberg. Old Pinacothek, Munich.


The decadence of early German painting is seen in the works of Christopher Schwartz (about 1550–1597) and Johann Rothenhammer (1564-1623), who were chiefly influenced by the works of Tintoretto (Venetian School); Adam Elzheimer, sometimes called Adam of Frankfort (1574 ? -1620), painter of small landscapes, with figures representing Bible and mythological characters, and also of night pieces lighted by the moon or by artificial light ; Balthasar Denner (1685–1749), whose portraits show an extraordinary realism, even the peculiarities of the skin being represented, and whose fruit and flower pieces are marked by most excessive finish ; Raphael Mengs (1728–1772 ?), who was too blindly devoted to the classic antique to produce works of the highest class, and who so closely imitated the qualities of different masters that his pictures are devoid of the slightest strength of individuality ; Maria Angelica Kauffmann (1741–1807), a follower of Italian methods, whose graceful forms and pretty faces, warm coloring, and agreeable style of painting have gained considerable popularity; and Christian Dietrich (1712–1774), who was simply an imitator of greater artists.



The art revival of this century began with an interesting group of painters who met together in Rome in 1810 They were four young Germans full of enthusiasm —Peter von Cornelius of Düsseldorf (1783–1867), Friedrich Overbeck of Lubeck (1789-1869), Philip Veit of Frankfort (1793–1877), and Wilhelm von Schadow of Berlin (1789–1862).

Having noted that Italian art began to decline as soon as the full expression of beauty of the High Renaissance had come, they promised themselves and each other that they would put aside all ideas of mere beauty, all conventional methods of thought and study ; that they would resolutely shun all tricks of color and handling, and would simply try to fill their hearts with the old fourteenth-century faith and devotion, believing that thus they might aid in restoring. a growing art. Thus they earned the name of Prae-Raphaelites. They called themselves The Brethren.”

Overbeck spent the remainder of his life in Rome and was made president of St. Luke’s Academy of Art in that city.

His works may be studied in Villa Massimo, Rome; Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi; Staedel Museum, Frankfort; and New Pinacothek, Munich.

The phase of art seen in Overbeck’s work and practised by these young artists while in Rome had not much influence ; out of their work and spirit, however, has grown the worthy German religious painting of today.

This may be divided into three schools, one having its seat at Munich, one at Düsseldorf, and the third at Berlin.


Peter von Cornelius was called from Rome to Düsseldorf in 182o to direct its art academy, and soon afterward was summoned to Munich (thus becoming founder of the Munich School) to decorate its new public buildings, the Glyptothek, New Pinacothek, etc. He painted classic, antique, historical, and religious pictures. His paintings are colossal and possess a certain greatness of invention and composition that is impressive. They appeal to the intellect rather than to the heart. His color is cold and monotonous.

Most important works :

FRESCOES. Hall of the Gods and Hall of Heroes. Glyptothek, Munich.

FRESCOES. “History of Christian Painting.” Loggia of New Pinacothek, Munich.

FRESCOES. Biblical Scenes. Ludwig-Kirche, Munich. FRESCOES. Royal Cemetery, Berlin.

FRESCOES. Casa Zuccaro and Casa Bartholdi, Rome.

Among the artists of this school are Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1805-1874), who painted the vast frescoes on the staircase walls of the Berlin Museum, which picture ” Destruction of Jerusalem,” “Battle of the Huns,” ” Crusaders,” etc., and who has given to the world so many conceptions of Shakespeare’s and Goethe’s heroines; Carl Theodor von Piloty (1826-1886), a broad dramatic painter, full of realism, but tempered by Italian study, in whose work and influence we see a natural reaction from the “Prae-Raphaelite” spirit. Among his well-known pictures are “Nero among the Ruins of Rome” and ” Mary Queen of Scots receiving Sentence of Death.” Franz von Defregger (1835) and C. von Bodenhausen, whose Madonnas are widely reproduced; Gabriel Max (1840), painter of Madonnas, “Virgin Martyr in the Arena,” ” Lion’s Bride,” etc.; Franz Lenbach, portrait painter ; and B. Plockhorst (1825 ), who has painted ” St. John and Mary, Mother of Christ,” ” Christ the Consoler,” ” Flight into Egypt,” and many other pictures.

There are many young artists of this school.


When Cornelius was called to Munich, Wilhelm von Schadow took his place in Düsseldorf. This school is marked by refinement and sentiment, a careful study of nature and delicate harmonious coloring. Among its followers are Carl Lessing, the modern painter of Luther and the Reformation ; Heinrich Hofmann (1824), whose “Boy-Christ in the Temple,”

“Christ and the Rich Young Ruler,” etc., are so well known ; Julius W. L. Rotermund (1826-1859), whose ” Dead Christ,” finished by Bendemann, is justly famous ; Carl Müller (1839), well known by his “Annunciation ” and ” Holy Family “; Weber, painter of forests ; Oswald Achenbach, landscape and marine painter, and many others.


This is of a later growth than the others, and has grown out of the influence of both. Its work may be studied in the paintings of Ludwig Knaus (1829), noted for his strong genre pictures ; Adolph Menzel, who has represented scenes in the life of Frederick the Great ; Carl Schorn and Julius Schrader, historical-painters ; Edward and Paul Meyerheim, and Carl Becker, genre painters ; Gustav Richter, whose oriental scenes and portraits (conspicuous among which is that of Queen Louise of Prussia) are well known, and Alfred Rethel, a painter of historic and ideal pictures, the latter of which are weird and mystic.

Austrian painting of today, so German in character, is represented by Hans Makart (1840-1884), a strong and most -eccentric painter, full of invention, wanting in taste and in correctness of form, and most lavish in color ; Peter Krafft and Carl Rahl, historical painters ; Waldmüller, painter of peasant life ; and Michael Munkácsy (1846 ), who has painted ” Christ before Pilate,” ” Christ on Calvary,” ” Milton dictating to his Daughters,” etc.