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Bernhard Strigel

German, 1460/1461 - 1528

Bernardinus auf der Ruckseite des Cuspianbildes; Bernhardinus auf dem Wolfhardtbildnis; Striegel, Bernhard

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Bernhard Strigel was born between 1460 and 1461 into a family of artists in Memmingen, a city in the Allgäu region of southern Germany. His grandfather, Hans Strigel the Elder, was a painter and the head of a workshop. It is still not determined whether Bernhard's father was Hans Strigel the Younger, a painter, or his brother Ivo Strigel, who was a sculptor. Although we know very little about his early years, it is most likely that Bernhard was trained as a painter in the family shop. The earliest work that can be associated with Bernhard Strigel is the left wing of an altarpiece with Saints Vinzentius, Sebastian, and Michael, orginally located in the church in Splügen (Graubünden). The carved center portion by Ivo Strigel and the other wing are no longer extant. In addition to some Netherlandish influence that may indicate a journey to the Lowlands in the 1480s, Strigel's early work reflects the influence of the late Gothic style of the Ulm painter Bartholomäus Zeitblom. Strigel assisted Zeitblom with the predella and six panels, datable 1493/1494, that form the high altar of the cloister church in Blaubeuren.

In the course of the 1490s Strigel became an independent master in Memmingen and began to produce both religious paintings and portraits. Strigel attracted the attention of Maximilian I and the portrait dated 1504 is one of the earliest of numerous portraits of the emperor produced by the artist and his shop. In 1515 Strigel left Memmingen to work in Vienna as court painter to Maximilian. Here, in the same year, he produced one of the earliest group portraits in Germany, the depiction of Maximilian I and his family.

Strigel must have returned to Memmingen almost immediately, for in 1515 he collaborated with the sculptor Hans Thoman on an altarpiece (now lost), and between 1516 and 1518 he is recorded as holding significant positions in the Memmingen city government and the trade guild. His depiction on two panels of Konrad Rehlinger the Elder and his children, dated 1517, is at once a superb portrayal and one of the earliest large-scale, full-length independent portraits.

Strigel returned to Vienna in 1520. In the interim the portrait of Maximilian I and his family was acquired by the humanist and court advisor Johannes Cuspinian, who had Strigel add a Holy Kinship to the reverse and also paint a separate but matching portrayal of Cuspinian and his family. The lengthy inscription on the back is an important primary document; by stating that Strigel was sixty years old in 1520, it helps establish the artist's birthdate. We also learn that Strigel painted the Cuspinian portrait with his left hand and was "proclaimed noble" by Maximilian, although it is unclear whether Strigel's nobility took the form of a payment or a title.

Strigel was back in Memmingen by 1521/1522 and working on a "Holy Tomb" for the Church of our Lady. As a person of importance and influence Strigel was sent between 1523 and 1525 to represent Memmingen at the court in Innsbruck and in Ulm, Augsburg, and other cities. As the Reformation engulfed Memmingen in the mid-1520s, Strigel acted as a mediator between the various factions. The artist himself was apparently sympathetic to the new ideas. In his last years he seems to have abandoned religious works and devoted himself almost exclusively to portraiture.

Bernhard Strigel died in Memmingen sometime between 4 May and 23 June 1528. His oeuvre consists of approximately ninety paintings and a small corpus of attributed drawings. In the absence of a son, his workshop was taken over by his brother-in-law Hans Goldschmidt, who resided in the Strigel household from at least 1521 on.

[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, D.C., 1993: 166-167.]

Artist Bibliography

Otto, Gertrud. Bernhard Strigel. Munich and Berlin, 1964.
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, D.C., 1993: 166-167.

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