Tańce chłopskie w twórczości graficznej Sebalda Behama w kontekście historycznym, społecznym i kulturowym
Sebald Beham’s Peasant Dances in Historical, Social and Cultural Context
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The German so-called Little Masters (Kleinmeister) were painter-engravers, active in the first half of the 16th century. They did not form any group or belong to any school, but were direct continuators of Albrecht Dürer’s printmaking. Depending on the author, the term Little Masters has been applied to various artists from this generation, the most significant ones being the three artists from Nuremberg: (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550), Barthel (1502-1540) Beham and Georg Pencz (ca. 1500-1550), as well as Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538) and Heinrich Aldegrever (1502-ca. 1555), and the lesser known Hans Brosamer (ca. 1490-1552), Jacob Binck (1494/1500-after 1569) and an anonymous Master IB. The article focuses on Sebald Beham whose biography and works have been repeatedly studied in German and English literature,but only mentioned in Polish publications. As far as his education is concerned, it is possible, but not documented, that he was trained by his brother Barthel and subsequently by Dürer. His life has often been regarded as a rebellious one due to his troubles with the authorities; firstly, when he confessed, together with his brother and Georg Pencz, his disbelief in the holy sacraments and his disrespect for the town council, and secondly, when his book on the proportions of the horse was published before Dürer’s Art of Measurement. In the first case, he was jailed and expelled from Nuremberg for just under a year, whereas after the second scandal he left the city for few months. This prolific artist’s oeuvre encompasses about 250 copperplates, 18 etchings and over 1500 woodcuts, including book illustrations. He was the author of simple and small woodcuts, extremely detailed miniature works in metal created with thin and delicate lines, as well as large woodcuts used as wallpapers. Moreover, the subjects of his prints were varied: Biblical (mostly the Old Testament), mythological, historical (ancient history in particular) and genre scenes (mainly peasants), images of saints, portraits, allegorical representations, coats of arms, decorative and ornamental motifs. My paper deals with Beham’s prints depicting peasant dances and festivals, especially the three series of engravings created in Frankfurt am Main between 1535-1540: Peasant Festival (1537), Peasant Wedding Procession (ca. 1538–1540) and Peasant Festival or The Twelve Months (1546–1547). Although it was Dürer who introduced this genre motif into the graphic arts and inspired his followers, the creation and development of this specific type of representation is ascribed to the Beham brothers. Sebald’s large woodcuts and miniature engravings depicted the villagers’ customs in different ways; taking the audience’s needs into consideration, he developed, changed and re-edited this motif in his prints till the second half of the 16th century, when it began to function as a separate subject. The development of the peasant motif in graphic arts at that time resulted from several factors. First of all, it occurred during a period of interest in the way of life and feasts of this social group. Studies on the past and the first attempts to create a national identity provide an explanation for this fascination, as does the changing atmosphere of Nuremberg secondary to social and religious transformations. The new Lutheran doctrine condemned church holidays as being more secular than religious in character. Kermis, the most popular festival, which celebrated a church’s anniversary or its saint’s day, was often an occasion that provoked numerous sins: blasphemy, drunkenness, anger, lust or adultery, as well as quarrels, brawls and even murders. As a result, the aforementioned feasting became a worrying issue for the town council, which gradually began to cancel some of the festivals; the authorities tried to make both the upper and lower classes aware of the destructive effects of village holidays. Taking the moralistic and didactic character of Beham’s graphic works into consideration, one can assume that the artist expressed recognition as well as critique of this kind of feast. Last but not least, the Peasants’ War also accounted for rising interest in rural life, although it cannot be regarded as a key factor. While most researchers have tried to find only one right interpretation as far as both large woodcuts and the series of miniature engravings depicting peasants are concerned, it seems to me that one should study these works in a wider context, taking their varied contents, symbols and meanings into consideration. These do not have to exclude one another; on the contrary, they can complete each other and help us to understand Beham’s prints better in their historical, social and cultural context. Such an approach gives rise to new possibilities of interpretation.
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