Ordering German Artists: Joachim von Sandrart, Teutsche Akademie (1675)


Joachim von Sandrart’s three-part Teutsche Akademie was the first encyclopedic history of art written in German. It focused on German art and was thus foundational in creating the canon of German masters. Sandrart (1606–1688) had close ties to many European aristocratic courts, and in 1676 he became a member of the important Fruitbearing Society. Founded in 1617 by Duke Ludwig of Anhalt-Köthen and modeled after Accademia della Crusca in Florence, the Fruitbearing Society was instrumental in the publication of the Teutsche Akademie. Pan-European strands run throughout this key German work, which incorporates a range of specialist literature translated from other languages, especially from Dutch, French, and Italian. Modelled on Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (1550), Teutsche Akademie shows Germans attempting to establish their own artistic legitimacy by inserting themselves into an “Italian” tradition. Dürer’s inclusion among the biographies indicated his prominence as a German artist a century and a half after his death. The featured excerpt suggests that Sandrart, like many others, viewed Dürer as the quintessential representative of the German art of printing.


Chapter XVI.
About Chinese Painting/ the Form or Woodcutting / and the “Black Art” in Copper.


Before we close this discussion, we must say a bit about xylography and woodcutting, that beautiful science which, especially in the case of printed books, graces the initial letters with ornamentation. The artworks are created from pieces of pearwood, first with the quill of a good draftsman and then by the carver, who uses his subtle instruments to cut away all the excess wood so that only the outlines of the sketch remain raised. Then this carved block is set in the tray [or “bed”] alongside the letters and screwed into the frame and pressed onto the paper with the printing press. It is the Germans who can be credited with the invention of this wonderful craft that led to the invention of book printing, which began in Strasbourg and Mainz in the year 1440. For, as it is known, before anyone had learned to pour letters [of lead], entire texts were written on wood and carved before being printed, as can be seen in the very first books like Belial’s Process [Der deutsche Belial] in 1487, the Nürnberger Reformation in 1488, and others.

Such woodcuts were held by the old Germans, as their first inventors, in great regard, and they were later imitated in the Netherlands by Jan Swart[1] from Friesland, Lucas van Leyden in Holland, and finally, in Italy by Marco Antonio and Ugo da Carpi. Among the Germans, the diligent Dürer cut a number of such wooden blocks himself. He was followed by Tobias Stimmer, who was followed by his brother Christoph Stimmer, a true master of woodcutting. In other words, masters of this beautiful craft resided not only in Nuremberg but also in Augsburg, Basel, and Strasbourg, just as Holbein’s texts and works deserve recognition alongside those of Dürer, [Matthias] Grünewald, and [Willibald] Pirkheimer. I would have liked to praise by name those masters here who carried out the unusual and splendid woodcuts and figures completed for the Works of Petrarch printed in 1551 and of Cicero in 1540, and in the liturgical calendar edition from Nuremberg, and in more recent times, many German and Latin Bibles, Homer’s Works, Virgil, and Ovid, but I was not able to find or ascertain their names anywhere.

The so-called “black art” [mezzotint technique] using copper also deserves mention here; it is an art in which sharp, pointed instruments of steel and iron are used to go over, rub, press, and roll over smoothly polished copper [plates]. Due to the greater hardness of the material [of the instruments], an image or figure is thus scratched into the softer copper. This work results in fifty or sixty clean impressions, but after this the impression is abraded away quickly, for it does not go deep into the copper. It is not considered great art and is used only for decorative practice. The entire effort centers on the drawing: for whoever has mastered this with hand and mind, this and similar techniques are a mere game.

The first to invent this art form was a Hessian Lieutenant Colonel named [Ludwig von] Siegen, in 1648, after the end of the German [Thirty Years] War. He used this technique to produce a half-size likeness of Her Highness, the regent widow of Hesse-Cassel, as well as of Prince [Wilhelm II] of Orange. His Highness Prince Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, as those involved in the arts of sketching and painting could see, mastered this technique with such perfection that nothing more could be improved, producing such impeccable and varied works with this masterly hand as a Magdalena, a number of portraits, and the image of a soldier looking around with his gleaming armor, shield, and spear. It was W[allerant] Vaillant, an experienced painter with excellent drawing abilities, who next advanced this technique and produced a quantity of exquisite works in copper, which would take far too long to describe in detail. The effects of his continual improvement and dedication bordered on the miraculous. This technique of rendering delicate shadows and other details is surpassed by none other, but rather, when the outline along with the shadows and light are accurately portrayed, the hatching, etching, or dots [used to create the actual engraving] can be made as one pleases without affecting the final quality. In addition, this work provides a high degree of realism, the effects of light and shadow are significant and pleasurable, especially in the pictures, for the same is not possible with the burin or with chemical engraving.



[1] Jan Swart von Gröningen, sometimes also called Vredemann—trans.

Source: Joachim von Sandrart, Teutsche Academie der Bau-, Bild- und Mahlerey-Künste. Nuremberg 1675 / 1679 / 1680. Online edition with scholarly commentary, edited by Thomas Kirchner, Alessandro Nova, Carsten Blüm, Anna Schreurs, and Thorsten Wübbena, 2008–2012, p. 101. Available online at: http://ta.sandrart.net/en/facs/191

Translation: Ellen Yutzy Glebe

Babette Bohn and James M. Saslow, eds., A Companion to Renaissance and Baroque Art. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013

Susie Nash, Northern Renaissance Art. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Sandrart.net: A Net-based Research Platform on the History of Art and Culture in the 17th Century, http://sandrart.net/en/ (last accessed November 11, 2021)

Larry Silver and Jeffrey Chipps Smith, eds., The Essential Dürer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

Ordering German Artists: Joachim von Sandrart, Teutsche Akademie (1675), published in: German History Intersections, <https://germanhistory-intersections.org/en/germanness/ghis:document-266> [November 29, 2023].