One of the undisputed masterpieces of sixteenth-century German painting, this arresting portrait had never been exhibited before 1966, descending in the family of the sitter for more than 370 years. Having survived in an excellent state of preservation, it seems to have eluded the attention of art historians until shortly after its sale, in 1921, from the estate of the last Freiherr von Baldinger. First published in 1925, and shortly thereafter in the 1927 catalogue of the Herzog collection, it has long been recognised as one of the finest painted works by Georg Pencz. Pencz has been called the last great painter of the 'Dürer-Tradition', a Nuremburg school of painting which saw its fullest expression in its visually sumptuous and psychologically subtle approach to portraiture. Pencz's Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger is a prime example of the final flowering of Nuremburg portrait painting -- a tradition which reached its zenith in the art of Albrecht Dürer, and which was carried forward by Dürer's acknowledged successor and perhaps greatest pupil, Georg Pencz himself.
The Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger is a work of considerable importance in the larger history of European art, for it serves as a vivid illustration of the impact of Italian painting on German pictorial practice in the mid-sixteenth century. While the cross-pollination of German and Italian printmaking is exhaustively well-documented, much less has been demonstrated about the parallel trend in oil painting, for which this portrait stands as an invaluable piece of evidence. The portrait's art-historical significance lies in its remarkable synthesis of typically German pictorial qualities -- such as its meticulous attention to detail and delight in the graphic potential of delineation -- with precisely those Italianate currents of which Dürer was the strongest early champion in German art: a refined naturalism in the modelling of forms, and a profound knowledge of the classical canon. The story of the interaction between German and Italian art during the sixteenth century is one in which Pencz -- and, indeed, this very portrait -- play a very significant role, in conscious and reverent emulation of the model set by Dürer. If Dürer's own Italianate portraits possessed a startling formal novelty couched in technical brilliance, the Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger shows Pencz taking the natural next steps: having fully internalised the techniques and effects of cinquecento Italian naturalism, here Pencz carries them to a new level of perfection.
It is striking that these two important characteristics of Baldinger -- its excellence as a portrait and its expression of an interest in Italianate ideas -- correspond to two of the defining traits of Nuremburg painting, each of which became a key contributing factor to the pre-eminence of that city as an art centre. It has been argued that by the late fifteenth century portraiture was the most prominent of all pictorial genres in Nuremburg; more than a quarter of all surviving late Gothic portraits were painted there (Schneckenburger-Broschek, 1982, p. 30). It then comes as no surprise that portrait-painting in Nuremburg reached a sophistication rivalled by few other centres in Northern Europe. The period of richest growth in this local tradition took place over some sixty years in the careers of Michael Wolgemut (1434/7-1519), his pupil Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and Pencz. It is equally no surprise that the latter two looked very attentively to Italian prototypes in their portraiture. Of all the German cities, it was in Nuremburg that the impact of Italian innovations was strongest. The most obvious reason for this was Nuremburg's proximity to Italy and importance as a centre of trade, with established commercial links to Italian trading and artistic centres, above all Venice. Trade between Venice and Nuremburg had been firmly underway since about 1328, with a strong Nuremburger presence at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the German compound in Venice. However, it was not until Dürer took the inspired (and at that date highly unusual) step of travelling to Venice, that the influence of Italian Renaissance painting came to be fully felt in Germany. It was in Dürer's studio, where Pencz is believed to have trained, that the new techniques, ideas and theoretical preoccupations expressed in the art of the Italian Renaissance were first adapted by German artists.
The Artist: From Nuremburg to Italy
It is not known where precisely Georg Pencz was born, but he arrived in Nuremburg in 1523 and is thought to have entered Dürer's workshop the same year. From the very outset, Pencz seems to have committed himself to the study of Italian art. Almost every work in Pencz's oeuvre concerns itself with the interpretation of classical models or a development of the artistic ideals of the Italian Renaissance. Although today Pencz's celebrity rests more squarely on his career as a printmaker -- he was, with the Beham brothers, one of the original Kleinmeister, so-called because of the small scale of their engravings -- his painted work reflects an even stronger artistic talent than do his prints, and like them are always in dialogue with the classicising interests of the Southern Renaissance. While there is a certain amount of documentary evidence about the events of Pencz's life (we know, for example, that he married the daughter of the painter Matthes Prunner, and that they had six children; that in 1525 he was imprisoned with the Beham brothers for their outspoken religious views, but that by the agency of Graf Albrecht von Mansfeld all three were soon pardoned; that in 1532 he was granted a stipend by the Nuremburg council for civic projects; that in 1539 he became guardian of the daughter of the late painter Hans Wolf; that he enjoyed the patronage of John, Elector of Saxony and Duke Albert of Prussia), we have surprisingly little factual information about his artistic development. Pencz is not known to have kept a written record; certainly none survives. While Dürer took great delight in documenting his Italian travels, both in texts of various description and in visual works, one of the most tantalising mysteries in Pencz's biography is the absence of any concrete evidence that he travelled to Italy. It is generally accepted, however, that he must have spent time there; the range of his knowledge of the classicising motifs fashionable in Italy, and more importantly the technical virtuosity with which he was able to paint pictures emulating Bronzino, Lotto, Giulio Romano, Mantegna, Palma Vecchio, Titian and others, suggest a profound understanding which cannot have been attained without a close study of these artists at first hand. On the basis of his stylistic development, underpinned by dated prints and paintings, it is thought that Pencz must have made his first trip to Italy in the late 1520s, returning to Nuremburg circa 1529; with a second trip hypothesised for 1539-40 or 1541-2, taking Pencz as far as Rome. On this second trip he may have coincided with Barthel Beham, his Nuremburg friend, colleague and co-defendant of 1525, who was then in the employ of Duke William IV of Bavaria. It is known that the Duke had sponsored Beham to travel in Italy and seek out Giulio Romano in Mantua; Joachim Sandrart was to write that Beham also spent a number of years working with Marcantonio Raimondi in Bologna and Rome.
The strongest evidence to back up the hypothetical dates for Pencz's travel to Italy lies in the increasingly Italianate character of the works he produced upon his return to Nuremburg after each of the two postulated trips. The most striking early example is Pencz's Adoration of the Magi (now surviving as three fragments in Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister), which shows a debt to Florentine prototypes; its overgrown, crumbling, architectural backdrop recalls Adorations by Botticelli (for example that of circa 1475 in Florence, The Uffizi), while the charming self-portrait of the young Pencz, peeking out of a window with a coy sidelong smile, had become almost standard practice for Florentine artists. The possibility that Pencz included Florence on his first tour is rarely discussed, but may help account for the knowledge of Bronzino that would become apparent in his later works, including Baldinger; alternatively Pencz may have encountered Florentine currents in Venice, which must have been a stop on both trips. A Venus and Cupid thought to date to circa 1528-9 (Berlin, Staatliche Museen) strongly echoes the Venetian tradition, while a Judith dated 1531 (Munich, Alte Pinakothek) is also reminiscent of Italian prototypes.
The likelihood of a second trip to Italy is even more amply supported by Pencz's work in the 1540s, which provides a very strong indication that he did indeed spend time in Rome. His drawings of the Last Judgement (Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage), as well as certain engravings (Bartsch 24-5) show that he knew Michelangelo's Last Judgement fresco in the Sistine Chapel. Assuming that Pencz only saw the Last Judgement after its official unveiling in 1541, this provides a convincing terminus post quem for his final return to Nuremburg some time thereafter. An engraving (Bartsch 86) of Giulio Romano's Capture of Carthage of 1539 suggests that Pencz was in Mantua around this time, and strengthens the speculative possibility that he saw Barthel Beham while there. On his earlier trip Pencz had already been impressed by Giulio's decoration for the Palazzo del Te, as well as by Mantegna's trompe-l'oeil effects in the Camera degli Sposi, both of which had influenced his large-scale ceiling painting The Fall of Phaeton (1534; destroyed during the Second World War), and clearly recognized Mantua's importance as a locus of technical and stylistic experimentation.
This second trip exercised the most profound change in the whole of Pencz's career. He returned to Nuremburg with what Hans Georg Gmelin has called 'a distinct change in his style of painting and drawing' (1998, loc. cit.), expressed above all in his painted portraits. Not only had Pencz acquired a thorough understanding of the Mannerism of Rome and Florence, which is evident in his subsequent compositional thought, but suddenly his technical ability in the modelling of volumes and the depiction of subtle differences in texture seems to have developed into a far-ranging, painterly virtuosity. The portraits of the next decade are so consummate in their Mannerist refinement that for the first time they can be confused for the work of an Italian court painter, and belong to the courtly style of Bronzino, then working for Cosimo I de' Medici in Grand Ducal Florence as the leading international portraitist. Painted in 1545, it is to this period, the apex of Pencz's artistic development and skill, that the Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger belongs.
Some ten years younger than Pencz, Sigismund Baldinger, the sitter in this portrait, was born in 1510 in Friesing, and by 1534 was active in Nuremburg. A businessman, Baldinger represented the interests of the Herwarth family, an important Augsburg firm of merchants active in the metalware trade and finance. In 1543 Baldinger was admitted to the Great Council of Nuremburg as a sworn representative of the citizenry. In 1549 he married Elisabeth Roth, the daughter of a patrician house of Ulm. Three years later, Baldinger stood with 17 other families to be ennobled by Charles V, in return for their support of the Imperial cause during the Schmalkaldic War (a brief struggle between the Holy Roman Empire and Lutheran insurgents within its borders, in 1546-7). By 1556 he seems to have moved to Ulm, attaining citizenship in that year, and becoming a council member there a year later. He died in Ulm in 1558. Pencz's portrait, however, belongs to a period before Baldinger's show of loyalty to the Emperor, before his marriage and move to Ulm, before the honours of Imperial ennoblement. The inscription on the sculpted cartouche at centre right dates the portrait precisely to 1545; it also tells the viewer that Baldinger was born on the Monday before Whitsun (Pfingst) in 1510, giving his date of birth as the 13th of May and indicating his age as 35. Not yet ennobled, the Baldinger shown by Pencz is a young, successful burger, already well-respected, recently elected to the Great Council, and still full of promise for the future. The solidity of Baldinger's large body, planted firmly on a marble bench, conveys a solidity of purpose and character; his face is composed and open, his gaze addressing the viewer directly.
The portrait is one of a series of similar works painted by Pencz shortly after his return from Italy, seemingly in response to a spate of commissions inspired by his new mastery of the Mannerist idiom and the latest technical developments of the Renaissance. Nuremburgers wishing to associate themselves with the cutting edge in pictorial innovation and the latest courtly styles of Italy seem to have flocked to Pencz; in the space of one or two years he painted the most strongly Italianate portraits of his career. Gmelin goes so far as to say that Pencz's Portrait of a young man of 1543 (London, The Royal Collection, Hampton Court), 'posed in front of a flat rectangular niche differs little from portraits by Bronzino and must have seemed very modern in Nuremburg' (1998, loc. cit.). In 1544, Pencz painted the Portrait of an eighteen-year-old youth (Florence, The Uffizi), another work which is uncannily Bronzinesque. The same year saw the completion of the Portrait of Jakob Hofmann (Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum), which shows many of the same compositional and decorative solutions as Baldinger, while lacking some of its virtuosity of finish. In 1545, the same year as Baldinger, Pencz completed the Portrait of Nuremburger Field Marshal Sebald Schirmer (Nuremburg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum) and the Portrait of Jörg Herz (Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle). The as yet unidentified Portrait of a merchant (private collection), indebted both to Bronzino and to Titian, was painted in 1547, while the Portrait of a man reading (Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts), undated, must also belong to the 1540s -- and bears very close comparison with one of Bronzino's most celebrated masterpieces, the Portrait of Bartolomeo Panciatichi of circa 1540 (Florence, The Uffizi).
It is striking that Pencz was able to produce so many of his best works in such a short space of time. In the 1540s Pencz painted in a burst of inspired, intense creativity, which can also be seen as lending further credence to the hypothesis of Pencz's second trip to Italy, when the artist must have absorbed even more strongly the heady atmosphere of artistic study, competition and collaboration, returning even more saturated with exciting ideas, virtuosic motivation and technical refinements. The portraits of this decade -- Baldinger, Hofmann, Schirmer, Herz -- are a remarkable record of their milieu and their time. The identified sitters are drawn from amongst the elite of Nuremburg's burger society. Schirmer, 44 at the time of his portrait's completion, was Feldhauptman, or Field Marshal, of the City of Nuremburg, having fought the Turks under the Imperial standard; Herz, 52, a jeweller by profession, was also Münzkürner, an official of the city Mint, in charge of controlling the quality of its gold; Hofmann, the first identified patron of Pencz's new style, and a near contemporary of Baldinger's (32 at the time the portrait was completed), was a Master Goldsmith of Nuremburg -- as a craftsman, Herz may well have been a particularly sympathetic client of Pencz's new style. How, precisely, Pencz went about disseminating his new style to these circles, on his return from Italy, is an interesting question -- a key moment seems to have been his commission to paint an even grander sitter, the Emperor's chancellor Antoine Perrenot de Granevelle, at the time of the Imperial Diet in Nuremburg in February 1543. While it is not known to what extent the Portrait of Perrenot de Granevelle (now untraced) conformed to the style of the subsequent ones, it is tempting to speculate that it too must have been painted in Pencz's new manner.
One of Pencz's key accomplishments is the introduction of the three-quarter-length format to Germany. The format had been championed by Titian from as early as 1510, the period of his La Schiavona (London, The National Gallery; one of the first-ever three-quarter-length portraits). In Germany this format came to be known as the Kniestück, and enjoyed considerable popularity from the time of its introduction in Pencz's portraits. It had doubtless been observed by Pencz in Venice, in portraits by Titian, Lorenzo Lotto and others. It has long been noted that Pencz's debt to Lotto is considerable, and art historians often draw comparison to Lotto's celebrated Portrait of Andrea Odoni of 1527 (London, The Royal Collection, Hampton Court). This has been noted as of particular significance for Baldinger, which shares Odoni's use of a lavish, voluminous expanse of clothing as a compositional device conveying stability, presence and directness of psychological address towards the viewer. It is tantalising to think that Pencz may have seen Odoni in the flesh. Although this has never been proposed in the literature, there is no reason why Pencz should have been unable to see the picture on either of his visits to Venice; Odoni had one of the most celebrated collections of art and antiquities in Venice, and his home would have been an essential stopping point for any tourist interested in the arts, Pencz included. The effect attributed to Lotto's portraits by Andrew John Martin -- 'a kind of spatial dilation in his three-quarter-length portraits that enabled his sitters to intimately interact with the viewer' (cited in Aikema and Brown, op. cit., p. 386) -- is also vividly present in Baldinger, which is the only of Pencz's later portraits in which the sitter is afforded quite so much surrounding space. Although the notional depth of the depicted space is relatively shallow -- Baldinger is perched on a bench below the ledge of an architectural recess, his elbow resting on the nearby table -- Pencz deftly creates the illusion of a larger atmosphere; the greater depth of the architectural recess behind Baldinger's head and shoulders, and the step-like progression of depths from table to bench to ledge, creates precisely that sense of 'spatial dilation' which makes the space both more immediately accessible to the viewer, and endows the sitter with a larger-than-life presence. The three-quarter-length framing of the body, showing the sitter from the shins up, is echoed in three-dimensions by the slight three-quarters turn of Baldinger's shoulders. The volume thus suggested around the body of the sitter, contributing to the naturalistic sense of depth, accords rhythmically with the not-quite-square format of the picture rectangle.
If the compositional effect and various other aspects bring this picture into Lotto's camp, other characteristics bring it closer again to Bronzino. The relatively small number of attributes is one such trait. Whereas Odoni is surrounded by a symphony of objects, Pencz presents a very select group of material attributes. The sparse arrangement of symbols resembles Bronzino's careful choice of props -- books of poetry, letters, special articles of clothing -- each one speaking the more eloquently for its relative isolation in the pictorial landscape. The gloves held by Baldinger are a well-known symbol of social standing; the green-draped table is a standard compositional device of Italian portraits; the sculpted cartouche that runs along the upper right edge, is an erudite allusion to the classical ideals of Renaissance Europe, an allegiance shared by painter and sitter. It resembles the ornamental grotesque prints for which Pencz was famous (Bartsch 123-5). Somewhat enigmatic is the single glass phial, filled with water, sitting on the ledge to the left. The label around its neck provides a clue as to its nature; it reads, '...n wesch wassers', i.e. '[...n] washing water'. This suggests that the phial contains a perfumed water for the use of a gentleman's toilet, perhaps an indication of Baldinger's personal elegance, courtly taste and fashion sense. In addition to this direct interpretation of the phial's significance, supported by Martin Widmann, scholars have put forward a number of allegorical readings of the phial as a symbol of fleeting material luxury of the type usually associated with the vanitas trope (see Schneckenburger-Broschek, 1997, pp. 228-9). Another reading may be that the phial, a crystal clear vessel for water of confirmed purity ('wesch wassers'), represents the purity of character possessed by Baldinger. It is with this symbolic meaning that phials of water were frequently used as an attribute of the Virgin, often included, for example, in Italian depictions of the Annunciation; this association would have been immediate and clear to Pencz's audience. In addition to this, the phial provides Pencz with an opportunity to display his virtuosic ability to paint a complicated shape with an understanding of the perspectival projection of highlights, an exercise which had been a favourite challenge for Renaissance artists, including van Eyck (The Arnolfini Wedding, London, The National Gallery) and Dürer; indeed in 1547, only two years after this portrait was painted, Pencz would be lauded by Johann Neudörffer for this very skill: 'Mit dem Durchgläsen und Scheinen in Gläsern, Wasser...ist er sehr künstlich und in der Perspektive sehr erfahren' (see G.W.K. Lochner, Des Johann Neudörfer (les mots de J. Neudorfer sur les artistes et les emplacements d'oeuvres d'art de l'année 1547), Vienna, 1875, p. 137).
Perhaps the closest parallel to a portrait by Bronzino is to the Portrait of a young man with a lute, circa 1535, also in The Uffizi, Florence, which shares the same sparsity of attributes, coupled with the same overriding forcefulness of the sitter's identity. Although of different format, Bronzino's portrait shows an uncanny similarity of tactics: the placement of the sitter in a corner, near a receding wall; an architectural recess creating an ambiguous sense of depth; a simple but effective use of decorative detailing on the wall; the small corner of a green-draped table; a select group of attributes, subdued in their claims on the viewer's attention; the same slight three-quarters turn of the shoulders. What is perhaps most striking is the similar disposition of the sitter's hands -- the proper right hand slightly raised, near the upper thigh, gently clutching an object; the proper left lowered towards the closer knee, its fingers spread. This subtle but highly sophisticated device helps create a sense of tectonic stability, lends the composition an upward momentum and reinforces the uprightness of the sitter's posture; it is one of the most effective but least commonly used of portrait poses (later used by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres in his Portrait of Louis-François Bertin, 1833). As such, it serves as a subtle but very powerful reminder of Pencz's well-earned place in the pantheon of portraitists, underscoring his role as a key link in the larger history of European art.
Pencz's own signature appears as a monogram on the little cartellino -- again, a device Pencz might have observed in Venetian or Florentine paintings -- on the wall near the upper right-hand corner. The use of the cartellino developed in Italy; rather than painting an inscription or a signature as a line of text floating over the picture plane, it was seen as better taste to incorporate such messages into the depicted world, as Pencz does here by placing his signature on a little note, or by making the date and sitter's age a carved legend on the sculpted cartouche, seemingly an intrinsic part of the room's relief decoration.
The rapid development of Pencz's art from an enthusiastic experimentation in Italian motifs to a technical mastery and compositional sophistication, perhaps fired in the crucible of his enigmatic trips to Italy, serves as a striking parallel to that of a German contemporary, Hans Holbein the Younger. The first great monuments of the Kniestück in Germany, Pencz's portraits of the 1540s are the earliest substantial group of German paintings which can truly be said to possess a fully international style. While they lay claim to the most universal of sixteenth-century European tastes, they also remain firmly grounded in the native Nuremburg tradition of psychologically searching portraiture. They take a proud place on the walls of museums in Nuremburg, Damrstadt, Karlsruhe, Florence, London and elsewhere, with The Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger the last of Pencz's great late panel-portraits in private hands.