(b. ca. 1480, Regensburg, d. 1538, Regensburg)

Landscape with Satyr Family

Panel, 23 x 20 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

A family of satyrs has settled on a tree-covered slope at the foot of a cliff. The man with horns and goat's feet is shown holding a club, while a blonde woman nestles against him and supports the child standing on her thigh. The couple seem to be oblivious of a scene taking place in a nearby meadow, where a woman in a red dress is attempting to flee from a naked man who is carrying a stick in one hand and holding her fast with the other.

The uninhibited way of life of human or semi-human beings in the freedom of natural surroundings was a frequently occurring theme in literary and pictorial works of the Renaissance, following the precedent of antiquity. German artists became familiar with subjects of this kind mainly through copper-engravings by Andrea Mantegna and other northern Italian artists. By no means all these themes were derived straight from antiquity; frequently they were mythological fantasies inspired by Roman relief sculpture.

The whole atmosphere of Altdorfer's idyllic scene suggests that it was inspired not so much by engravings as by the Arcadian landscapes of Venetian painters of the school of Giorgione; yet, although the motif of the naked woman seen from behind seems to confirm this, Altdorfer's approach to his art is fundamentally different. The satisfaction of depicting the nude, for which scenes from antiquity provided the most obvious pretext, is entirely subordinate in Altdorfer's paintings to his rendering of nature. The figures, which are fairly summarily treated, remain small and relatively inconspicuous against the dense wooded background. Whether the painter actually visited Venice is not certain but it does seem highly likely. About 1500 he was working in the Salzburg region at the Mondsee monastery, before he acquired burgher's rights in Regensburg in 1505. The present work, produced two years later, is one of Altdorfer's earliest signed and dated paintings. Like Cranach's Rest on the Flight, painted in 1504, it points the way to a new awareness of landscape in the Renaissance period, originally stemming from the so-called Danube school.

Around the middle of the last century this portrait was in the Kraenner Collection in Regensburg; it later passed into the collection of Barthel Suermondt, which was purchased for the Berlin Gallery in 1874.