Brass of the Month
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Copyright © 2007 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)
Page last updated 04 March 2015
Copyright: Hubert Allen
This month’s brass seems to have a significance that has perhaps escaped notice. At the close of the 15th century monumental brasses in Europe were characteristically Gothic memorials – either in the elegant Flemish style of Branca da Vilhana  or in the rather overloaded ‘High Gothic’ of Duke Frederick the Good of Saxony. But when in 1510 the distinguished Vischer workshop in Nuremberg was asked to produce a brass for another member of Duke Frederick’s family, they seem, not unnaturally, to have turned to a fellow townsman, Albrecht Dürer, who had done much work for the current Duke, Frederick the Wise. Moreover, works such as his Prodigal Son (1498), St Eustace (1501) and Adam & Eve (1504) meant that by this time Dürer had become the most renowned engraver in Europe.
Now between 1505 and 1507 Dürer had been based in Venice; and during this and a shorter visit to Italy ten years earlier he had been absorbing the ideas of the Italian Renaissance, with its admiration for the art of classical antiquity. Consequently the design for the new brass was in that tradition – revolutionary in northern Europe at so early a date. On her brass in Meissen cathedral, instead of the familiar stiff formal pose, full face and bolt upright, Duchess Zedena is portrayed as a three-
In the Vischer workshop, whether or not Dürer in person designed and perhaps even engraved all or part of the Duchess Zedena’s brass, his influence has been shown to be considerable. But, more important, perhaps, is the fact that -
1. Evora (Portugal), c.1490: illustrated in Norris: Monumental Brasses: The Memorials (Phillips & Page, London, 1977): Fig.118, and description p.102.
2. Meissen (Germany), 1464: ibid. Fig.134, and description p.114
3. Notably in 1496 a portrait of the Duke himself, in 1504 an altarpiece (The Adoration of the Magi) for his castle chapel in Wittenberg, and a few years’ later mural paintings in the castle itself. For details see e.g. Steck, Max: Dürer & his World (Vienna, 1957; trans. Brownjohn, London, 1964); and Wolf, Norbert: Albrecht Dürer – the Genius of the German Renaissance (Cologne, 2006).
4. Norris: Monumental Brasses: The Craft (Faber & Faber, London, 1978): p.117.
5. At least one leading scholar thinks that he did: see Lemper, E.H.: Das Christliche Denkmal – der Dom zu Meissen (Berlin, 1962, pp.56-
6. Thus Norris points out that the “representations of Saints Albert and Stanislaus depicted on the brass of Cardinal Fryderyk at Kraków Cathedral are a very close copy of two figures from the Dürer woodcut of Saints Nicholas, Ulrich and Erasmus”: ibid., pp.99f and Figs.82-
Photograph © Martin Stuchfield