MEMBERGER, Kaspar the Elder
(b. ca. 1555, Konstanz, d. 1618, Konstanz)

Noah's Ark Cycle: 1. Building of the Ark

Oil on canvas, 128 x 166 cm
Residenzgalerie, Salzburg

When Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau (1559-1617), the founder of Baroque Salzburg, took office as prince-archbishop in 1587, the contemporary local art scene was lacking in eminent personalities and high-quality works of art. In order to demonstrate appropriately the splendour of his court, Wolf Dietrich commissioned artists from abroad. Immediately after Wolf Dietrich had taken office, he commissioned the painter Kaspar Memberger the Elder from Constance to paint a five-part Noah's Ark Cycle.

With loving attention to faithful detail, Memberger's Noah cycle of five paintings gives a lively rendering of the most important events in the biblical story (Gen 6—9): the building of the ark, the animals entering the ark, the flood, the animals leaving the ark and Noah's sacrifice of thanksgiving. All the paintings are dated and signed and bear the arms of both the Land Salzburg and of Wolf Dietrich. They are similar in their formal composition: against the partial view of a mountain landscape, the protagonists engage in their various activities in the foreground.

The brilliant composition, minute execution and balanced use of colour prove the artist's Dutch-Italian training. He took over individual elements of the narrative from the depiction of the flood by Jacopo Bassano, without, however, copying the work of this eminent representative of late Renaissance painting in Venice. Memberger translated these elements into his own native idiom, differing from Bassano in his depiction of richly dressed people rather than humble beings, and his use of a visual vocabulary appropriate to the lofty tone of the court.