Martin Schongauer was born in the small town of Colmar, south of Strasbourg in the Rhine Valley. His father was a goldsmith, the profession that fostered the art of engraving, and there can be no doubt that the younger Schongauer learned how to handle the engraver’s burin at an early age. However, he was principally trained as a painter, and although this was a more prestigious profession, it was the masterful joining of his painting and engraving skills that accounts for his uncontested place among the great artists of the late Gothic. Geographically positioned at a point of interchange between German and Netherlandish styles, Schongauer drew the best from both traditions and contributed to each in return. His virtuosic command of engraving technique was unparalleled in his time. Indeed, it was Schongauer who made Albrecht Dürer’s success as a printmaker possible.
Schongauer’s engravings are especially notable for their precision and control, and in particular for the deeply cut lines that not only generate brilliant graphic effects but also allow the copperplate to yield a greater number of sharp impressions. As a painter, he brought a highly developed sense of pictorial space and physical structure to his prints. In his approach to modeling we can also perceive the sensibility of a sculptor where he shapes a contour, defines a highlight, or models the intricate turn of a garment fold through a dense complex of crosshatching and stippling.
Christ Enthroned, with Two Angels, is a superb impression of one of the finest compositions from Schongauer’s mature period in a corpus of well over a hundred prints, most already represented in the Gallery’s collection. The engraving depicts Christ in his manifestation as God the Father, redeemer of the world. Haloed, crowned, and enthroned, he bears a scepter and an orb, all symbols of celestial royalty. Two angels beneath a canopy draw apart curtains to reveal the figure of the deity bestowing his blessing. In performing this service, the angels also enact a theological metaphor. The Latin word for veil (vela) is the root of the word "revelation," literally "to unveil." Thus, in the modest dimensions of a print, Schongauer has presumed to perform no less than a revelation, as if to evoke the famous passage: "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12).
lower center in image: MS; by later hand, lower left verso in graphite: C10212 B70 L.33
Princes of Waldburg-Wolfegg (Lugt 2542). (Knoedlers, New York, 1920s); American private collection, then by descent. (Salamander Fine Arts, London); purchased 2007 by NGA.
- Medieval to Modern: Recent Acquisitions of Drawings, Prints, and Illustrated Books, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2008, no. 5.
- Hollstein, F.W.H. et al. German engravings, etchings and woodcuts ca. 1400-1700. 8 vols. Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger, 1954-1868. Dutch and Flemish etchings, engravings and woodcuts, ca. 1450-1700. Vols. I-XV, XVIII, XIX. Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberge