(1473 - 1531)
Burgkmair was born in Augsberg, where his father was a painter. In 1488 he went to Colmar to train with Martin Schongauer, who was then among the leading artists in Northern Europe, and the dominant figure in printmaking.
Schongauer’s date of death is uncertain, but it probably occurred during the two years Burgkmair spent in Colmar. Schongauer was a supreme master of engraving, but Burgkmair left no engravings; all his prints are woodcuts, except for one etching on steel (Venus & Mercury of c1520).
By 1491 he was back in Augsberg, working on woodcuts for book illustrations, which were to remain a large part of his output throughout his career. In 1498 he became a master, and became successful as a painter, mainly of religious scenes and portraits.
He may have visited Italy when young, and a visit in about 1507 has been deduced from developments in his style. He was certainly heavily influenced by Italian art, and important in transmitting Italian influence to German art. Augsburg was a small but wealthy city, with many luxury trades, and strong trading links with Italy, which lay just over the Alps.
Augsberg was also the seat of the Imperial Council, and Burgkmair was first introduced to Maximilian I, the peripatetic Holy Roman Emperor, in 1500. From about 1508 Maximilian made Burgkmair the main woodcut artist for his extraordinary series of propaganda publications in woodcut, which occupied a large part of his time for the next decade. The projects were:
- the Genealogy of the Hapsburgs of 1509-10, a series of full-length portraits of ancestors real and mythical, for which Burgkmair did 95 or more blocks,
- Der Weisskunig (The White King) of 1514-16, a fictionalized biography of Maximilian, for which Burgkmair did 121 out of over 200 large woodcuts. This was never finished and was not published until 1775, after the blocks were re-discovered.
-Der Theuerdank of 1517, a yet more romanticised verse biography of Maximilian as a knight-errant, for which Burgkmair produced 13 or 14 or the 118 large woodcuts. This was published later in the C16.
-The Triumph of Maximilian of 1516-18, a huge frieze over 50 metres long even though never completed, with 137 separate very large woodcuts, of which Burgkmair was responsible for 67. Dürer was in overall charge of the artists, and this is artistically the most successful of the projects.
- there was another project, the Great Arch of 1515, a billboard-sized woodcut in which Burgkmair was not involved, with Dürer again co-ordinating the artists and contributing some designs himself.
These projects were large collaborative exercises co-ordinated by councillors of the Emperor but with Maximilian himself taking a rather pedantic interest in their progress. He wrote or planned out most of the texts and the content of the images. There is a Burgkmair woodcut from the Weisskunig showing Maximilian standing behind the artist instructing him on how things should be done.
Several artists were involved, including Dürer and his assistants, as well as Jost de Negker as chief block-cutter and printer and Erhard Ratdolt the publisher. The projects came to an abrupt end at Maximilian’s death in 1519, although his descendants were eventually responsible for publishing what had been produced.
In addition many of Burgkmair’s finest individual woodcuts were commissioned by Maximilian or his court, including many portraits. The chivalric ambitions of Maximilian were an important impetus towards the development of the chiaroscuro or colour woodcut, as explained in our note to Lovers Surprised by Death, which is usually considered Burgkmair’s finest print in this technique.
Burgkmair’s son, Hans the Younger, was also a successful artist.