Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Garden of Love & Earthly Delights - Israhel van Meckenem c. 1445 - 1503

Israhel van Meckenem German, c. 1445 - 1503 1 Ornamental garden engraving with 2 lovers; at the lower centre grows a tendril with flowers and foliage winding to either side, with numerous birds and figures

Israhel van Meckenem was also known as Israhel van Meckenem the Younger (Active c. 1450-1465),  a German engraver apparently trained by his father & possibly Master E.S.  His birth date is an estimate ranging from the early 1430s to 1450. His father arrived in Bocholt, Germany, near the border of the Netherlands, in 1457. Attempts have been made to identify the father as the Master of the Berlin Passion, an early engraver, but this remains uncertain. Some writers also assign to the father works traditionally given to the son. The name "Israhel" suggests the family may have had Jewish origins, but Israhel the Younger was buried at a Christian church, perhaps because it might not have been possible for Jews to work as goldsmiths. The "van" suggests a Dutch origin for the family; various places in Germany & the Netherlands have been suggested as "Meckenem," as no place generally called exactly that existed at the time. The Master of the Berlin Passion probably worked mainly in the Netherlands, so his identification with the artist's father Israhel Senior would have implications for identifying the family origin.
Israhel van Meckenem German, c. 1445 - 1503 2 Ornamental engraving with 2 lovers tucked into the tendrils with flowers and foliage on either side. Detail

Israhel van Meckenem probably trained initially as a goldsmith & engraver with his father, before travelling to work with Master E. S., the leading Northern European engraver of the day. He probably trained with Master E. S. in South Germany, & may well have been with him at his death c. 1467, since he acquired & reworked 41 of the master's plates. Another 200 of van Meckenem's "own" prints also were copies of ones by Master E. S. In total, he produced over 600 plates, most of which were copies of other prints; they represent about 20% of print production by all Northern European artists in the period of his working life. His career lasted long enough for him to copy Dürer prints. His earliest dated print comes from 1465, & indicates that he created it in Cleves, modern Kleve, on the Dutch border & then Dutch-speaking, where his family had moved. In 1470, he is documented as working in Bamberg in Bavaria; but he returned to Bocholt by about 1480, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Israhel van Meckenem German, c. 1445 - 1503 The Falconer and Noble Lady in a Garden c. 1495-1503

Israhel van Meckenem continued to work at goldsmithing. Some surviving pieces are widely accepted as his & many commissions from the Bocholt council are documented between 1480 & 1498. He was evidently a prosperous & established figure in the town. One of his prints is a double portrait of himself & his wife, Ida, whom he married in the late 1480s. He is documented in various lawsuits against neighbors, & Ida was fined for "unseemly speech" as well as for "mocking & scolding public officials." He is known to have made over 600 plates with up to a 100 prints a plate. He was the 1st engraver to engrave his own features.  

Israhel van Meckenem copied prints by The Housebook Master, including some now lost, Martin Schongauer, & many other German engravers. His famous series on the Life of the Virgin appears to have been based on drawings by Hans Holbein the Elder or his workshop, & he may have entered into a regular commercial relationship with Holbein.
Israhel van Meckenem German, c. 1445 - 1503 The Dissimilar Couple in a Garden c. 1500

Israhel van Meckenem's early works were fairly crude, but in the 1480s, he developed an effective personal style & made increasingly large & finished works. His own compositions are often very lively, & demonstrate a great interest in the secular life of his day. 

Israhel van Meckenem was sophisticated in self-presentation, signing later prints with his name & town, & producing the 1st self-portrait print of himself & his wife. Some plates seem to have been reworked more than once by his workshop, or produced in more than one version, & many impressions have survived; so his ability to market, distribute & sell his prints was evidently equally well developed.