Early German Painting

Near the end of the late Gothic period, the older art centres of both Germany and the Netherlands went into decline. Towns such as Antwerp and Nuremberg very quickly took over the leading role in the development and dissemination of the Renaissance style - not only in painting but also in other art forms. The main support for these developments came from an extensive network of humanist circles. Albrecht Dürer, who brought the new style to Nuremberg after his visits to Venice (1494-95 and 1505-07), became the founder of the South German Renaissance. The composition of figures in his paintings shows an exact observation of anatomy, an understanding of perspective and a new, vibrant use of colour. His study of the antique and of the Italian Renaissance was the foundation for his new imagery.

Lucas Cranach the Elder was influenced by Dürer early in his career but after 1505 he developed his own very individual style in a particularly extensive oeuvre. As court painter to the dukes of Saxony in Wittenberg he was obliged to produce portraits but was also responsible for the decoration of churches. He had links with humanist thinkers and was friendly with Martin Luther, whom he often portrayed. Besides the religious paintings (e.g. The Martyrdom of St Catherine) Cranach was particularly interested in the depiction of worldly and mythological subjects (e.g. Venus and Cupid, Apollo and Diana, and the Judgment of Paris), and such works clearly show the importance for Cranach's art of the new Renaissance concept of beauty that emerged from the rediscovery of the antique.

Hans Burgkmair the Elder studied first in the Upper Rhine region with Martin Schongauer, and then settled in Augsburg in 1498. In 1503 he visited Cologne where he copied Stefan Lochner's Last Judgment in a drawing. He also visited Italy and Venice, where he learnt the principles of the new style. As a painter of both altarpieces and portraits, he is a transitional artist. Burgkmair made contacts at court and produced a series of woodcuts for Emperor Maximilian I; he became famous as a painter of outstanding portraits in the new style between 1490 and 1512.

The influential role of Italian art can also be seen in the work of Georg Pencz. Based in Nuremberg, of which he became the town painter in 1532, he was a follower of Dürer and is likely to have been trained in his workshop. Some of his panels show a great similarity with Dürer's style and have often passed for Dürer's work.