THE old proverb of the Nurembergers proudly asserted that ” Nuremberg’s hand Goes through every land ” and this was no idle boast, for the free and busy city, which has been well called “the Birmingham of the Middle Ages,” divided with Augsburg the great transcontinental traffic between Venice and the Levant and Northern Europe. The commercial relations of Nuremberg and the City of the Lagoons were especially important, and numerous merchants from the Bavarian city were connected with the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi, or German warehouse, in Venice, and travelled back and forth between the two great centres of commerce.
The main reason, among several, for Durer’s second visit to Venice, which took place in 1505 (it appears now to be fairly proven that he had also been there in 1494), is to be found in the project for rebuilding the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi, which was burnt down in the winter of the year 1504-05. A few months later the Venetian Senate decided to begin the work of rebuilding the edifice on an enlarged scale, and from the various plans submitted chose those by a countryman of Durer, one Hieronymus, probably of Augsburg. Professor Thausing, in his authoritative biography of Durer, says that the two ruling parties in the German colony at Venice were the Augsburg and Nuremberg merchants, and suggests that, in order to avoid undue partiality (the architect selected being an Augsburger), they determined to give Durer the commission to paint an altar-piece for the church of San Bartolommeo, which was attached to their Fondaco. The picture resulting from this decision was the famous “Feast of the Rosary” (now in the monastery of Strahow, near Prague), in the background of which the painter has introduced portraits of himself and of his friend, Wilibald Pirkheimer, while behind them may be seen a distant group of buildings, representing the castle of their beloved Nuremberg. Writing .to Pirkheimer from Venice, Durer refers to the picture thus : I have also silenced the painters, who said that I was a good engraver, but did not know how to manage colors. Now everyone says they never saw more beautiful coloring.” Again, he says, “All the artists praise it just as the great people praised you. They say they never saw a more sublime or more lovely picture.”
In another letter to Pirkheimer, Darer writes :
“I wish you were in Venice. There are many fine fellows among the painters, who get more and more friendly with me; it holds one’s heart up. Well brought up folks, good lute players, skilled pipers and many noble and excellent people, are in the company, all wishing me very well, and being very friendly. On the other hand, here are the falsest, most lying, thievish villains in the whole world, appearing to the unwary the pleasantest possible fellows. I laugh to myself when they try it with me: the fact is, they know their rascality is public, though one says nothing. I have many good friends among the Italians, who warn me not to eat or drink with their painters : for many of them are my enemies, and copy my picture in the church, and others of mine wherever they meet with them ; and yet, notwithstanding this, they abuse my works, and say that they are not according to ancient art, and, there- , fore, not good. But Gian Bellini has praised me highly before several gentlemen, and he wishes to have something of my painting. He came himself, and asked me to do some-thing for him, saying that he would pay me well for it ; and all the people here tell me what a good man he is, so that I also am greatly inclined to him.”
A pleasing story is told of Dürer’s intercourse with the aged Bellini :
Bellini, while paying a visit to Durer, asked, as a special mark of affection, for one of the brushes used by the latter in painting hair. Durer held out to him a number of ordinary brushes, and told him to choose one, or take them all if he liked. Bellini, thinking Durer had not understood him, again asked for one of the particular brushes with which, as he thought, Durer was accustomed to do his fine hair painting. On this Durer assured him that he used nothing but the ordinary brushes, and, to prove it, painted on the spot a long lock of woman’s hair in his peculiar manner. Bellini is said to have acknowledged to several people afterward that he would never have believed it if he had not seen it with his own eyes.
It is somewhat curious that Durer makes no mention in his letters of either Giorgione or Titian, though he must have met them, as both painters were employed, during Dürer’s stay in Venice, in decorating the exterior walls of the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi with frescoes.
The popular and industrious artist Carl Becker, in his painting of ” Albrecht Durer in Venice,” places before us the handsome Bavarian seated beside old Bellini, who is examining some of Durer’s drawings. Behind them appears Giorgione, who is about to pledge Durer in a bumper of wine, while Titian replenishes his glass. It is not a matter of wonder that Durer’s words at the thought of returning home and leaving these genial kindred spirits were, “Ah, how I shall shiver for want of the sun. Here I am a gentleman, at home a hanger-on.” It seems that Becker has permitted himself some artistic license in representing Titian so mature in aspect, in fact, he was only about twenty-eight years old at this period, and the junior of the German painter by several years.
Lavinia, the beautiful daughter of Titian, so well known to art lovers by her father’s portrait of her bearing a dish of fruit, in the Berlin gallery, stands behind her brother Orazio, who holds up a sketch he has just taken from Durer’s portfolio.
Becker, who died in 1900 at the age of eighty years, was a pupil of Hess and Cornelius, and won many honors in the course of a long life. His ” Charles V. Being Entertained by Fugger ” is in the National Gallery at Berlin, and “The Emperor Maximilian Crowning Ulrich von Hutten at Augsburg” belongs to the Walraff-Richartz Museum at Cologne. At the Corcoran Gallery in Washington may be seen his painting of “The newly found statue of the Apollo Belvedere viewed by Pope Julius II.,” and other works of his are in American galleries, both public and private. Probably his best-known pictures are “Othello Relating his Adventures to Desdemona and her Father,” and “Romeo and Juliet at the Friar’s.”