Back to top

Master of the Housebook

Painter, illuminator, draughtsman, commercial artist, engraver, copperplate engraver and etcher

Born
ca. 1445
Died
after 1505

3 Works by Master of the Housebook

Biography

This artist is named after the illustrations in the so-called 'Medieval Housebook' (Fürstlich Waldburg-Wolfeggische Sammlung, Wolfegg Castle), a collection of various practical texts including recipes and treatises on warfare and metallurgy. But the true core of his oeuvre is made up of eighty-nine drypoint engravings, most of them preserved only as a single exemplar, the majority of which are in Amsterdam's Rijksprentenkabinet. The artist is therefore also known as the Master of the Amsterdam Cabinet, a name that was used in earlier scholarship and is in fact more appropriate, though since the beginning of the twentieth century far less common in German studies. Of the forty pen drawings in the 'Housebook', only the seven depictions of the planets - possibly even only three of these - can be attributed to the engraver. According to a chronology established by Gurt Glaser in 1910, the prints, all unsigned, are generally dated to the period between roughly 1470 and 1490, though aside from stylistic features there are few clues to support such a conclusion. The extremely animated depictions, mostly devoted to secular subjects, and their extremely subtle execution make for a homogeneous grouping. Although the function of the engravings is disputed, whether as atelier patterns or independent collectors' pieces, there has accordingly never been serious doubt about their belonging together. Yet to this day there is at times heated controversy about other possible works by the same master. Attributions to the engraver became a veritable flood especially in the first half of the twentieth century, crediting him with additional pen drawings, woodcuts, miniatures, stained glass paintings or their designs, even sculptures and especially a number of paintings. However, only a very few of these suggestions could be maintained, among them a small number of drawings and a series of panel paintings that are essentially grouped around the Frankfurt 'Resurrection' and its matching retable fragments as well as a portrait of a young couple in Gotha, which are generally considered major works by the master or by an artist from his circle. The paintings in question are generally dated to the period between roughly 1480 and 1505-1510. The identity of the engraver or the artist or artists from his circle has continued to be unclear; the suggestion most often discussed, that he could be identified with the Utrecht artist Erhard Reuwich, active in Mainz, has to be seen as ultimately unconvincing. Yet it can be assumed with certainty that the artist or artists worked in the area of the Middle Rhine. Certain works can be associated with the Heidelberg court, with Mainz, or with Speyer. His engravings in particular show the anonymous artist to have been the most important late Gothic artist from this region.