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ca. 1500–1550 Leipzig or Wrocław

Georg Pencz is generally regarded as the last great exponent of German renaissance art in the tradition of Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528). Believed to have worked in the atelier of Dürer, he certainly spent most of his working life in Nuremburg where he was documented as an official painter to the City Council in 1532.

Pencz’s reputation rests both on his engravings and his achievements as a painter. As a printmaker he is known as one of the ‘Little Masters’, on account of the small scale of all their prints, along with the brothers Sebald (1500–1540) and Barthel Beham (1502–1540). Pencz is thought by some to have visited Italy both in the late 1520s and around 1540 and certainly his surviving drawings and prints show a knowledge of Giulio Romano (1499–1546) in Mantua and even Michelangelo’s (1475–1564) Last Judgment in Rome. As a painter, for some reason, he blossomed after 1540 when he turned his back on compositional paintings such as the now destroyed Fall of Phaeton ceiling decoration for the home of Lienhard Hirschvogel and the Scenes from the Passion painted for King Sigismund I of Poland in 1538 (Wawel Cathedral, Krakow). Instead he focused on a series of portraits which are original and exact representations of patrician Nuremburg society. 

Seemingly aware of Italian portraiture, both the cool figures in a spare architectural setting favored by Bronzino (1503–1572) and the haughty directness of Titian (1485/90–1576) and Lorenzo Lotto (1480–1557), Pencz painted this group of Nuremburg dignitaries in the mid 1540s. Their physical presence invariably fills the pictorial space and is set in an architectural setting, often a corner, sparsely ornamented with classical grotesques and still life details such as glass containers in which we see reflected windows. The sitters look out at us with a boldness and unflinching realism, bordering on awkwardness, which makes them instantly recognizable. Examples include the Portrait of Jacob Hofmann (Darmstadt, Landesmuseum) and the Portrait of General Sebald Schirmer (Nuremburg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum). 

At the same time, Pencz also painted allegorical female figures, notably the Allegory of Melancholy (Schloss Weissenstein, Pommersfelden) and the Reclining Female Nude (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena) which clearly alludes to the erotic, languid Venuses of Giorgione (1478–1510) and Titian. Nevertheless, Pencz refuses to jettison his essentially Germanic artistic character as can be seen in details such as the meticulously painted still life elements and the highly wrought costumes. Pencz was appointed court painter to Duke Albert I of Saxony in Leipzig but he died in 1550 en route to taking up this position.


Top Auction Results for Georg Pencz

Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger
Sold for £5,641,250 ($8,543,206) 
London, Christie’s, 6 July 2010, Old Master & 19th Century Paintings, Drawings & Watercolours Evening, lot 30

Sold for £22,000 ($39,790)
London, Sotheby’s, 11 December 1991, Old Master Paintings, lot 42 

Head of a young woman, titled to the left
Sold for $21,600
New York, Christie’s, 25 January 2007, Old Master and 19th Century Drawings, lot 49 


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