Sektion 2: Zur Relation von Form und Technik in den druckgrafischen Verfahren der Frühen Neuzeit
Samstag, 26. März 2022, 14:45–15:15 Uhr, K2, Hörsaal 17.02
Susan Maxwell, Oshkosh

The Void as Form in Martin Schongauer’s Engravings

Martin Schongauer’s 1480–90 engraving “The Carrying of the Cross to Calvary” is doubtless one of the most spectacular feats of the burin in the early modern period. Not only is its size remarkable for this medium, Schongauer offers up a veritable pageant of costumes, animals, emotions, and entertainment. His mastery of anatomy and pose, both human and animal, is accompanied by a virtuoso command of the engraved line that suggests textures of wood, fur, leather, fabric, rocky outcroppings, and grassy tufts. At the center of the densely packed crowd of tormentors, the calm and sorrowful face of Christ looks directly out at the viewer from underneath the heavy cross that dissects the composition. Yet, despite a foreground inundated with visual detail that winds across the surface of the plate into a distant background, it is his treatment of the empty space of the sky, split between the impending storm on the left and the clear emptiness of the right, that is truly remarkable.

This paper will examine Schongauer’s implicit recognition that, in a medium of black and white where form and modeling are created by line alone, the white void of the paper proves a powerful tool in creating atmosphere and depth. Delicate, barely visible lines that disappear into the void create atmospheric perspective and introduce the concept of time, allowing us to imagine Christ’s excruciating journey into the distant landscape. I will argue that this understanding of the power of the blank space is not necessarily a given in printmaking traditions that preceded him. By looking at earlier prints and considering medieval traditions of flatness and decoration that Schongauer inherited, it becomes apparent that his discovery paved the way for countless later engravers.

Erasmus of Rotterdam famously declared that Albrecht Dürer could evoke color with black line as well as Apelles had with pigments, but implying color through line does not begin with Dürer. It may seem a given that a printmaker would understand the value of the void in shaping space, but I will argue that this is a discovery that begins with Schongauer and is not immediately evident in his peers. Many late fifteenth century prints are marked either by a horror vacui of decorative elements or focus solely on presence rather than absence. It is Schongauer who first deploys the power of the void, constructing potent empty spaces that are a direct outcome of his innovative understanding of the medium of engraving.
Kurzbiografie Susan Maxwell
1997M.A. in Renaissance and Baroque Art History, Printmaking and Works on Paper (thesis on Aegedius Sadeler in Prague)
2002Ph.D., University of Virginia (dissertation on Friedrich Sustris and patronage at Bavarian court)
2010Historians of Netherlandish Art Fellowship
2005–2010Assistant Professor of Art History, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
2010–2015Associate Professor of Art History, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
2012–2013University of Wisconsin Full Academic-Year Sabbatical Grant Honorary Fellowship, Historisches Kolleg Munich DAAD Research Fellow, Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin
2013–2021Chair of the Department of Art, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
since 2015Professor of Art History, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Forschungs- bzw. Arbeitsschwerpunkte Early modern prints and drawing practices; intersections of art and science in early modern collections; patronage of the Bavarian Wittelsbach dukes; Peter Paul Rubens and the Thirty Year War
  • The Pursuit of Art and Pleasure in the Secret Grotto of Wilhelm V of Bavaria, (Renaissance Quarterly 61,2) 2008, S. 414–462.
  • The Court Art of Friedrich Sustris: Patronage in Late Renaissance Bavaria, Farnham 2011.
  • Every Living Beast: Collecting Animals in Early Modern Munich, in Pia Cuneo (Hg.): Anim-als and Early Modern Identity, Farnham 2014, S. 45–66.
  • Lazy Foreigners and Indignant Locals: Influence and Rivalry in Bavarian Court Patronage, in: Dagmar Eichberger, Philippe Lorentz und Andreas Tacke (Hgg.): The Artist between Court and City (1300–1600), Petersberg 2017, S. 280–291.
  • Artful Negotiator: Peter Paul Rubens’ Intervention in the Cause of Catholic Bavaria, in: Gerhild Scholz Williams, Sigrun Haude und Christian Schneider (Hgg.): Rethinking Europe. War and Peace in Early Modern German Lands (Chloe 48), Leiden 2019, S. 125–147.