The first of its kind in France, and organized in close cooperation with Vienna’s Albertina Museum, this monographic exhibition aims to acquaint the public with the rich diversity of Altdorfer’s body of work in the context of the German Renaissance.
Closely connected to humanist circles, Altdorfer was at once a highly original artist, prolifically inventive both in form and choice of subject, and thoroughly aware of the work of his German and Italian contemporaries.
Featuring close to 200 pieces—paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and objets d’art—the exhibition is arranged chronologically and by theme, with sections devoted to major works commissioned by Emperor Maximilian, as well as to gold and silver smithery, and the two genres pioneered by the artist—landscape and architecture.
The first section will reveal the characteristics of Altdorfer’s early work (around 1506–1512). While nothing is known about his training, we are aware of the important part played by the prints that acquainted Altdorfer with the work of his German contemporaries Dürer and Cranach, whom he wanted to rival, and of the Italian Quattrocento artists who served as his inspiration—Andrea Mantegna in particular. The artist’s true specialty, chiaroscuro drawings—such as the Departure for the Sabbath—demonstrate his great expressivity.
Altdorfer produced his mature work between the years 1512 and 1520. The artist’s reputation was firmly established in 1512 with the imaginative series of forty small 7×5 cm woodcuts entitled the Fall and Redemption of Man, which quickly earned him considerable recognition. For Altdorfer, this print series was a sort of experiment that would lead to a change in style: landscapes from this period and the use of perspective show his art gaining in vibrancy. Around this time, the artist also joined the ranks of the great official artists of Emperor Maximilian I, producing work for imperial commissions: he participated in Emperor Maximilian’s Prayer Book, made woodcuts for the Triumphal Arch, and executed miniatures and engravings for the Triumphal Procession. These works are grouped together in a dedicated section.
While completing these prestigious commissions, Altdorfer also worked on major narrative cycles depicting the Life and Passion of Christ and the Legend of Saint Florian, which would mark the first apogee of his career as a painter. These works are imbued with a new dramatic power that can also be seen in Altdorfer’s drawings and prints from this period.
Dedicated to the end of the artist’s career (around 1522–1538), the last section will show the commissions that the now famous Altdorfer received from the court of Bavaria while he continued to work for Regensburg’s nobility. Devoting himself mainly to painting, he explored new genres—portraits, allegories and large–scale decorative works—and continued to use contemporary innovations as inspiration. The artist’s pictorial repertoire expanded significantly during this period.
This biographical exhibition will also include several thematic sections highlighting the distinctive features of Altdorfer’s art. The first will be devoted to ornaments and precious metalwork, to which he dedicated many prints (23 etchings) that will be displayed alongside cups from the same period. The other sections will be dedicated to landscapes and architecture, two genres that Altdorfer pioneered by exploring them in their own right. He was one of the first artists to depict empty landscapes and church interiors, much like his contemporary in nearby Passau, Wolf Huber.
Exhibition curators: Hélène Grollemund, Collection Manager at the Department of Prints and Drawings, Musée du Louvre; Séverine Lepape, Director of the Musée de Cluny-Musée National du Moyen Âge; Olivia Savatier Sjöholm, Curator at the Department of Prints and Drawings, Musée du Louvre.