St. John in Mourning
Circle of Hans Baldung Grien, possibly by Nikolaus Kremer (?)
Strasbourg, Germany; ca. 1518-21 (?)
Black chalk, some black wash, heightened with white on prepared brown paper
Approximate size: 40.7 x 30.8 cm
Condition: The sketch has been reinforced by application to a thicker backing sheet and has browned with age; an old middle-fold; some water stains and oxidation of the white paint. Some minor creases and a few small losses, in-filled by a later hand. Two unidentified watermarks are visible on the original paper under bright back-lighting.
Peirre Vischer (also known as Peter Vischer-Sarasin) of Basel, Switzerland
Possibly part of his sale in Paris, 1852, April 19 - May 4
See Lugt 2115
Possibly, by descent, to his son Peter Vischer-Passavant
Dr. Michel Gaud
An active collector in Paris around 1980.
Perhaps offered in his Piasa, à Paris, le 26 Mars 2010 sale?
See Lugt 3482
Note: The pencil notes on the verso describe the drawing as “16th century German School,” with the question “Durer?” There is also a reference that the drawing belonged to "Comte d'Orsay” (Pierre Marie Gaspard Grimod), however, this is perhaps a misreading of Vischer's collection stamp which looks similar to d'Orsay’s.
The present drawing can be placed within the stylistic milieu of Albrecht Dürer and more specifically, with that of his exemplary acolyte and peer: Hans Baldung Grien, chiefly active in Strasbourg from 1509 until his death in 1545. In particular, the choice technique and individual expression of the sketch are in-keeping with Baldung’s influence. However, the flattening quality of the present sketch, its subdued strokes and insensitive heightening-in-white are tantamount to the workmanship of a less-qualified hand whose graphic execution suggests a copy rather than a preparatory work.
A close stylistic analogy can be observed in the little-known work of Nikolaus Kremer who is thought to have been Baldung’s pupil in Strasbourg. His earliest identified drawing of the Birth of Christ at the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart (inv. C78), bears his monogram “NK” and the date 1519. This work, executed on primed dark brown paper in black pen with white heightening, shows an awareness of early chiaroscuro woodblock printing pioneered in Germany by Hans Burgkmair, Jost de Negker and Baldung. Kremer’s drawing of 1519 follows Baldung’s execution of drawings-of-this-kind, intended for collectors, and the composition is thought to follow after an original design by Baldung. On account of this latter observation and that Kremer later inherited Baldung’s artistic estate following the master’s death in 1545, it is presumed Kremer was active as a pupil in Baldung’s workshop, ca. 1518-20, before establishing his own workshop in Strasbourg in 1521.
Apart from the Stuttgart drawing, Kremer’s most secure works include a series of life-size portrait sketches, executed in black and colored chalks, kept in the Kunsthalle Kupferstichkabinet (invs. 22883a-e), Louvre (invs. 18713-16) and Albertina (inv. 3203) museums. The sketches were probably intended as reference for painted portraits, datable during the 1520s and 1540s and a monogrammed and dated portrait painting of 1529 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington (inv. 1947.6.3) is indicative of such undertakings.
A stylistic disparity has been observed in Kremer’s 1519 drawing versus his portrait sketches and this may conceivably be due to a dependency on Baldung’s early instruction and the difference in medium between the Birth of Christ drawing and later portrait sketches by Kremer. The present drawing may reasonably serve as an intermediary, informed by the immediate influence of Baldung yet executed in the manner of Kremer’s portrait sketches. The sketch superficially shares in-common with the Birth of Christ the choice employ of prepared brown paper with white heightening while the use of black chalk and kindred scale of the drawing links it generically with Kremer’s portrait drafts.
The naïve and heavily applied heightening on the present drawing could suggest a possible early work by Kremer, executed while training in Baldung’s studio. The present drawing most likely portrays the figure of St. John in mourning, probably for a Crucifixion or Entombment composition in which John’s hands may have been clasped in lamentation or in support of the swooning Mary. Similar portrayals of St. John gazing downwardly are superficially observed in the Passion scenes comprising the painted altarpiece panels for Saint Thomas Church in Strasbourg, executed by the eponymous Master of the Karlsruhe Passion around 1450 or in circulated prints like Martin Schongauer’s Crucifixion, ca. 1480.
In particular, the eastern European facial character of our St. John shares a physiognomic likeness with the upward gazing St. John featured in Baldung’s painted Crucifixion panel realized in 1512 for the Schuttern Monastery (now kept at the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin, inv. 603). Although an adventurous idea, the present drawing could reproduce one of several probable studies Baldung may have executed in preparation for the Crucifixion commission. The sketch theoretically predates the 1540s when the advent of the Reformation largely banished commissions for religious art in Strasbourg.
Stylistically, the characteristic hatching of the St. John drawing, rendering of the hair and overall flattening of the facial features reflect tendencies present in Kremer’s portrait sketches. Nonetheless, while the authorship of this drawing to a young Kremer is a tantalizing idea, the deficiency of knowledge concerning his oeuvre invites ambiguity. Other possibilities could include the unidentified hand of Kremer’s pupil, Jost Krieg or further artists active in Strasbourg during the first-half of the 16th century whose work remains yet-to-be-identified like Hans von Frankfurt, Valentin Zipfel, Ulrich Küfer from Bern, Hans Blumenstein from Cologne, Hans von Metz, Hans Hebel, Hans Hag, Christian Zürner from Kreuznach, and others recorded in contemporary documents.
Hans-Martin Kaulbach u.a.: Deutsche Zeichnungen vom Mittelalter bis zum Barock. Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, Graphische Sammlung 2007, Nr. 88.
Hand, John Oliver, with the assistance of Sally E. Mansfield. German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1993: 115-119.
Hans Rott: Quellen und Forschungen zur südwestdeutschen und schweizerischen Kunstgeschichte im XV. und XVI. Jahrhundert. III. Der Oberrhein, Stuttgart 1938.
With thanks to Jonathan Bober, Stephanie Buck and Holger Jacob-Friesen for their observations concerning this sketch.
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