DAVID ALTENSTETTER, Enameller and Goldsmith
Philipp Hainhofer (1568-1636), the Augsburg art dealer and contemporary of Altenstetter considered him to be one of the most skilled and most celebrated masters of enamelling of his time. Known by the Augsburg craftsmen as the 'Father of all Artists', Hainhofer wrote on Altenstetter's death, 'how many times I warned him that his art, by which the enamel does not spring out from the metal, has been mastered by none else and he would take it to his grave' (quoted by T. Schroder, The Art of the European Goldsmith, Silver from the Schroder Collection, New York, 1983, p.118). More recently it has been said of Altenstetter that those works which can with certainty be ascribed to him place him 'among the finest Renaissance enamellers' (C. Hernmarck, 'The Art of the European Silversmith, 1430-1830', London, 1977, p. 283).
Altenstetter was born in Colmar. He became a master of the Augsburg goldsmith's guild in 1573 and married in the same year. He was a warden from 1587-1595 and died in 1617. Although it used to be thought that Altenstetter did not register a mark with the Augsburg goldsmith's guild, a housemark, formerly attributed to Philipp Gross who became a Master in 1619, is now thought to be his mark (H. Seling, Die Kunst der Augsburger Goldschmiede 1529-1864, Munich, 1980, vol. III., no 1339, re-attributed to Altenstetter by the same, in Supplement zu Band III, Munich, 1994, no. 864). There appears to be at least two versions of the mark, one in a circle and one more shield-shaped with a facetted top, as found on the spoons and forks of the magnificent banqueting service sold at Christie's, London, 1 December 2005, lot 514. This second mark was not published prior to 1994, although it appeared on at least one of the lost pierced and chased oval medallions of allegorical figures from the Pommersche Kunstschrank which was completed in 1617 and on the Rudolph II clock delivered in 1583. The exceptional beauty and quality of the Kunstschrank medallions give some idea of his outstanding ability as a goldsmith in addition to his extraordinary skill as an enameller.
Altenstetter's portrait appears alongside various artisans who worked on the Kunstschrank, painted by the Augsburg artist, Anton Mozart. The painting was completed a year or two before the actual delivery of the Kunstschrank when it was included in a space designed for it within the cabinet itself. In the painting the artisans in the back row, who are identified by numbers listed on a key on the reverse, are lead by Hainhofer who is showing a drawer and its contents from the Kunstschrank to the seated Duke and Duchess. Mozart's 'Die Übergabe des Pommerschen Kunstschranks' (The Delivery of the Pomeranian Kunstschrank) is now in the Kunstgewebermuseum, Berlin, (Inv. no. P 183a, see the exhibition catalogue, Silber und Gold, Augsburger Goldschmiedekunst für die Höfe Europas, Munich, 1994, p. 602 no. g 4, illustrated on p. 221).
Altenstetter's most important surviving signed work are three pieces made for the Emperor Rudolph II of Prague which are now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. He enamelled a magnificent clock, with movement by Hans Schlottheim, which was paid for in 1583 (inv. no. 602). Rosenberg and most other specialists have attributed the house mark on the base of the clock case to Cornelius Gross but he died in 1575 and the town mark appears to be that in use from 1580 to 1590. (e.g. Exhibition catalogue, 'Rudolph II and Prague', London 1997 p. 26, no.I.24). A comparison of the maker's mark shows that Altenstetter was not only responsible for the enamel work but also for the silver body of the clock.
The designs for Altenstetter's enamels are closely related to the pattern books of two artists working in Augsburg in the 1590s, the Huguenot, Daniel Mignot and Corvinianus Saur. The former's designs were published in that city as a series of engravings for jewellers between 1593 and 1596. Since the activities of engravers were unrestricted there is no record of him acquiring Augsburg citizenship or guild membership (Y. Hackenbroch, op.cit., pp. 178-180, figs. 483 A-D and 488 A-C). Corvinianus Saur seems to have been a designer, publishing a series of engravings as a young man in Augsburg between 1591 and 1597, and also a working jeweller. He eventually moved to Copenhagen to work for the court of King Christian IV (Y. Hackenbroch, op. cit., pp. 211-212, figs. 586, 595).
It has also been noted that the silver used for enamelling is, for technical reasons, of very high standard, indeed considerably higher than the normal Augsburg 'minimum' of 81.25 (13 lötig). The existence of enamel on silver was per se proof of high quality and therefore Altenstetter did not need to advertise his authorship further by stamping it.