National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

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The Housebook Master

The Housebook is a unique compilation of seemingly unrelated subjects: a classical text on the art of memory, personifications of the seven planets, illustrations of courtly life in the age of chivalry, household recipes and remedies, mining and metallurgy, and weaponry and warfare. The Housebook Master, the anonymous artist responsible for the finest illustrations in the manuscript, was active in southern Germany between about 1465 and 1500, a time of transition from the medieval to the early modern era. While the master was also a painter, he is known primarily for his illustrations in The Housebook and for his drypoint prints.

The illustrations in The Housebook may not all be by the master's hand. Variations in style and quality suggest to many viewers that other artists collaborated in the production of the book. The seven drawings of planets, or at least the best of them, are surely by the Housebook Master himself. The colored drawings of courtly life may be by either the Housebook Master or by another artist, and the technical drawings by yet another master.

The Original Owner of The Housebook

The topics covered in The Housebook suggest that the original owner who commissioned the manuscript may have been a castellan, charged with the daily operation and military protection of a castle. The section on mining and smelting further suggests that this owner probably had a direct, expert understanding of that industry. Mining and smelting flourished in Germany in the fifteenth century and were one means by which entrepreneurial members of the middle class acquired wealth and many of the privileges formerly reserved for the nobility. A prosperous burgher who made a fortune in mining and metallurgy might obtain the prestigious position of castellan or even have the opportunity to purchase a castle.

Exhibition Overview