MECKENEM, Israhel van the Younger
(b. 1440/45, Meckenheim, d. 1503, Bocholt)
The Artist and His Wife Idac. 1490
Copper engraving, 142 x 175 mm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Israel van Meckenem learned his trade in the shop of his father, who was a goldsmith and engraver, and his first efforts were-quite naturally copies of his father's prints. His apprenticeship completed, he joined the shop of the Master E.S., an artist whom we know only through his monogram, but who was one of the finest and most successful engravers of his time. When the latter died, Van Meckenem acquired a good many of his plates, pulled impressions from them, and sold the prints. One must realize that these early craftsmen made their livelihood from the creation, the printing, and the sale of their engravings. They often copied favourite works by other artists-prints by Schongauer, the young Dürer, and others. Thus, the success of many prints derived from their popularity as models for other artists and workshops.
Israel van Meckenem copied many of the best works of his day. There must have been a fair amount of larceny in him (one might detect it in his face), for he added the marks and signatures of the original artists to his copies, having no ethical or legal right to do so. No other fifteenth-century engraver produced as many plates as he, and 624 are known to us today.
The print illustrated has great significance in the history of graphic art, for it is the first self portrait of an early engraver that has survived. He represented himself here with his wife, who in all likelihood helped him run his business - and it was a business for this enterprising couple. They sold prints from their own studio, as well as those of other artists. We know that the editions were large, since over a hundred impressions of certain subjects, done some 475 years ago, have survived the ravages of time and now belong to various collections.