Judith and the astrolabe

17 Mar

Michael Ostendorfer, “Judith and Holofernes,” 1540, oil on panel, 27.3 x 22.2 cm, auctioned by Christies 7/7/2006 (Lot 135)

I was about to pass by this painting.  And then I read the write-up and it seemed more important than I first thought so, eh, it’s only one day in a blog.   I can splurge.

My problem with it?   (A)  It looks like a copy of Lucas Cranach the Elder, and (B) it looks like a bad copy of Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Actually, Ostendorfer’s collective works include woodcuts, a handful of drawings and nearly forty paintings –  including a number of small panels – such as this depiction of Judith.   These panels were painted for private patrons, and then they were repeated for other patrons, resulting in two earlier versions in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, and the Wallraf-Richartsz-Museum, Cologne, both dated 1530.   The choice of theme and the stylistic influence of Lucas Cranach is apparent in the representation as well as Albrecht Altdorfer’s influence on the composition, particularly the landscaped background. (1)

I found another example of Ostendorfer’s work which is much more interesting than this Judith:  his hand-colored wood cuts for Astronomicum Caesareum, a Renaissance instructive manual for the astrolabe (for calculating the altitude of stars) and other instruments for computing planetary positions written by Petrus Apianus, court astronomer to Emperor Charles V (2).   If I hung these prints on my refrigerator, no one would think they were painted by a fifth grader.

(1) Arcadja: catalogued by Ludwig Meyer

See also Christie’s July 7, 200

(2)  Ostendorfer, Michael, Hand-colored woodcuts for Astronomicum Caesareum, by Petrus Apianus (1540). 45.4 x 32.4 x 3.5, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, US.

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Posted by on March 17, 2012 in Distracted


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