Stewart uncovers Renaissance artist documents

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Stewart uncovers Renaissance artist documents

Alison Stewart, professor of art history, has discovered unpublished documents by Renaissance artist Sebald Beham. She found the documents (both receipts, one shown above) while conducting research for a book on Beham.
Alison Stewart, professor of art history, has discovered unpublished documents by Renaissance artist Sebald Beham. She found the documents (shown in the image) while conducting research for a book on Beham.

Research by UNL’s Alison Stewart has uncovered two previously unpublished documents from Renaissance artist Sebald Beham.

Stewart, a Hixson-Lied Professor of Art History, found the documents — two receipts — while conducting research in Frankfurt, Germany, for a book on Beham, a 16th century painter and printmaker. The receipts are from 1548 and show payments made to Beham by Nicolas vom Sand.

The receipts do not specify the reason for the payments, however Stewart had not previously known of a connection between Beham and vom Sand, a printer from Augsburg, Germany.

“The research in my field is like a big puzzle, and you put the pieces together,” Stewart said. “Now, I’m starting to find the people that Beham was associated with and who that person lived with part of the time and his publications, so it’s revealing all these layers.

“This is new information, and you can’t pick up a book on the period and find anything about this printer easily. The receipts give us a lot of information, but they also tell us a lot about what we don’t know.”

An article on her discovery will be published next year as a chapter in the peer-reviewed book, “Imagery and Ingenuity in Early Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of Jeffrey Chipps Smith.” Stewart also presented her findings at the Renaissance Society of America Annual Conference in Boston in March.

The receipts show payments made four months apart. The first, dated March 3, 1548, is for 80 talers — which Stewart estimates to be worth about $100,000 in modern U.S. dollars. The other receipt, dated July 17, 1548, shows another payment of 40 gulden and 15 batzen, estimated at about $50,000 today.

Entries on Beham in a 1930s, Walter Zülch book about German artists led Stewart to discovering the receipts within the Frankfurt archives.

“When I opened up the folder, I said, ‘Wow! Here they are, and they have never been published,’” she said. “I was very fortunate he had prepared the way for me to do this research.”

The find was also fortunate as much of the archive burned during World War II.

Beham (1500-1550) was a painter-printmaker who lived in Germany during the first half of the 16th century at the time of the Peasants’ War and Lutheran Reformation. He appears to have been trained by the leading master Albrecht Dürer around 1515-1520.

Beham, along with his brother Barthel and artist Jörg Pencz, were banished from Nuremberg in 1525 as “godless painters,” accused of heresy and blasphemy. They were part of a group of German printmakers known as the “Little Masters,” for their specialization in very small, finely detailed prints.

Beham moved to Frankfurt around 1531. During his two decades in Frankfurt he designed woodcut prints for Nuremberg publishers, book illustrations for Frankfurt book publishers, paintings for Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg and, on his own, he made small engravings.

Stewart published the book, “Before Bruegel: Sebald Beham and the Origins of Peasant Festival Imagery” (Ashgate, 2008).

The documents she discovered in Frankfurt indicate a wider net of printers with whom Beham worked than was previously known. Her research in Frankfurt will constitute a chapter in a book on Beham she is writing.

“I’m putting together the fact that maybe he was more active than we realized,” Stewart said.

The research was funded in part by awards from the Fulbright program and UNL. Stewart received a Fulbright Senior Lecturing/Research award to teach and conduct research at the University of Trier in Germany in 2014. She also received a UNL Layman Award and Hixson-Lied Endowment Research grant for additional research in Frankfurt in 2014 and 2015.

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