MARTIN SCHONGAUER The Tribulations of St. Anthony.
Engraving, circa 1469-73. 323x238 mm; 12 3/4x9 1/2 inches, narrow to thread margins. Second state (of 2). The letter D with a double cross watermark (Lehrs 5 ***, which he dates to the late 1400s). A superb, richly-inked and evenly-printed impression of this extremely scarce, early engraving, with all the details distinct and with little to no sign of wear, consistent with the earliest impressions of this subject.
We have found approximately only 8 other impressions at auction in the past 30 years, and few of this quality. There are only 15 impressions of this subject in North American public collections.
Working in Colmar, once a part of southwestern Germany that is now Alsatian France, Schongauer (1430-1491) was among the earliest known northern artists to fully utilize the craft of engraving. Many of his prints, like his few known paintings, reveal an affinity with the work of early Netherlandish artists such as Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden and Dirk Bouts. Schongauer imitated the monumentality associated with the altar paintings of these celebrated Netherlandish artists. The surreal nature of this engraving, with St. Anthony suspended in the air (the side of a mountain is visible in the lower right corner) tortured by demonic beasts on all sides, brings to mind contemporaneous works also steeped in fantasy and based on Biblical subjects by Schongauer's Netherlandish counterpart Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450-1516), with which Schongauer may have been familiar due to their widespread popularity in Europe at the time.
Schongauer's exquisitely engraved images were circulated widely throughout Europe. The sheer number of engraved copies of Schonaguer's prints, made by other artists during his lifetime, attests to his popularity and the significant demand for his work in the late 15th/early 16th century (Schongauer made approximately 115 engravings of different subjects, of which there are an equivalent number of different copies made by other artists during the late 15th century alone. One of Schongauer's best known engravings, The Death of the Virgin, early 1470s, was copied in at least 7 different prints by the early 16th century). Most importantly, he was one of the first printmakers who developed an individual style and whose engravings helped to stimulate an interest in collecting prints hitherto unseen in northern Europe.
Schongauer's work paved the way for the success of subsequent printmakers and was profoundly influential to the generation of engravers who proceeded him, most notably Albrecht Dürer (see lots 8-28). In 1492, the 21-year-old prodigious Dürer had intended on training with Schongauer, but arrived to the master engraver's workshop just months after his death. Dürer went on to emulate Schongauer by incising deep engraved lines in his plates to extend their printing life, thereby increasing their commercial viability, and ultimately surpassed Schongauer's appeal and popularity. Bartsch 47; Lehrs 54.