Jacopo de 'Barbari: an Italian and the Renaissance in the north

16 January–11 March 2018

Exhibition Overview

The Venetian Jacopo de 'Barbari is considered to be one of the most enigmatic and at the same time most interesting artists of the time around 1500. He was even called in the research as a "spirit driver of the Renaissance": while Dutch and German artists, such as Albrecht Dürer, traveled south and to Italian art, he was traveling in the opposite direction from south to north. From 1500 until his death (before?) 1516 he worked as a court painter at various royal courts north of the Alps, including Maximilian I in Nuremberg (1500-1503), with Friedrich the Wise in Wittenberg (1503-1505) and Margarethe from Austria in Mechelen (1511-1515 / 16), where he finally died.

The relationship between the traveling Jacopo de 'Barbari and his native colleagues was not always easy. So the Italian tried to obtain a permanent employment as a court artist with Friedrich the Wise, but had to give up his rival Lucas Cranach. Albrecht Dürer, on the other hand, seems at first to have been somewhat taken with by his Italian colleague. However, when he did not want to betray his findings on the theory of proportion, he reacted with annoyance.

The hand of Jacopo de 'Barbaris preserves 29 or 30 copperplate engravings, of which the Kupferstichkabinett shows a selection of 24 leaves in his cabinet room in the Gemäldegalerie. In the works of Jacopo de 'Barbaris, the whole variety, even apparent contradictions of the Renaissance between antiquarian fantasies and Christian pictorial themes becomes clear. The leaves are wonderful testimonies to the cultural transfer of this era. In a unique way, they combine stylistic and motivic elements and characteristics of Italian and German or Dutch art, thus influencing the work of many other artists. In this way Jacopo shows himself in his graphic work as a particularly imaginative and influential figure of an almost European dimension.

(Photo: Jacopo de 'Barbari, Pegasus (detail), c. 1510, engraving © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Dietmar Katz)

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