Chazen Museum of Art draws parallels between 15th-century printmaking and modern-day branding

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Chazen Museum of Art draws parallels between 15th-century printmaking and modern-day branding
Israhel van Meckenem (German, 1440/1444-1503), "Double Portrait of Israhel van Meckenem and his Wife Ida." Engraving, ca. 1490. 13.1 x 17.8 cm, Albertina Museum accession.

MADISON, WI.- Israhel van Meckenem produced more than 500 engravings during his lifetime. Many of those were close copies or adaptations of existing works. The artist and publisher was among the first creators to use his name as a trademark. The Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin–Madison presents new research about the German printmaker’s groundbreaking practice and explores his role in developing printmaking as a fine art in “Art of Enterprise: Israhel van Meckenem’s 15th-Century Print Workshop." The exhibition of more than 60 objects presents Israhel Van Meckenem’s engravings with several images he copied from Master ES, Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer and his other contemporaries.

“Israhel van Meckenem was one of the most prolific and influential printmakers of the 15th century, and his work offers a broad look at the visual and material culture of his time,” said exhibition curator James Wehn, the Chazen’s Van Vleck curator of works on paper. “‘Art of Enterprise’ examines the society in which the artist lived, presents the different types of engravings he published and explores his editorial practice and how he used his name and identity to develop a brand for his work in the marketplace.”

The Chazen’s exhibition pairs several of Israhel van Meckenem’s works with the originals by other artists, offering the opportunity for close looking to encourage visitors to find the often-subtle differences in the works. The show includes Israhel van Meckenem’s self-portrait with his wife, Ida who was active in the printmaking enterprise. The elaborate background and the fur trim on Ida’s robe reflect the couple’s status. Produced between 1495 and 1500, the work is the earliest known printed self-portrait and among the artist’s most famous works.

Other engravings on view introduce visitors to late-Medieval and early-Renaissance life with depictions of proverbs, folk wisdom, contemporary home interiors, everyday life and religious scenes. Engravings “Saint Peter” and “Saint John” were unknown to print historians until recently and are new to the Chazen’s permanent collection. Israhel van Meckenem used Master ES’s depiction of Saint Matthew to create “Saint Judas Thaddaeus.”

“He doubled the figure’s size, changed the shape of the beard and exchanged Matthew’s halberd for a long saw. The hand-applied colors, added by another artist, suggest the print’s use as an alternative to a miniature manuscript painting,” said Wehn.

As Israhel van Meckenem developed his editorial copying practice, copper plates served as valuable assets that he reworked and reprinted for profit. Visitors will see the copper plate Israhel engraved for his copy of Albrecht Dürer’s “Four Nude Women” alongside an impression from the plate. Also on view will be an early impression of “The Flagellation” from Israhel’s Passion series, highlighted with gold and bound into a prayerbook. The exhibition also includes “Ornament with the Engraver’s Name,” a showpiece spelling ISRAHEL M in a mesmerizing display of leaves.

“Israhel van Meckenem ventured into copy culture before there were copyright laws to prohibit his practice. Even so, the kinds of copies Israhel printed prompted some of the earliest questions about authorship and the value of intellectual property,” said Wehn.

“Art of Enterprise: Israhel van Meckenem’s 15th-Century Print Workshop” is organized by the Chazen Museum of Art. The exhibition includes approximately 10 works from the Chazen’s collection and loans from nine other institutions, including The Albertina Museum (Vienna, Austria); The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York); the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.).

Generous support for “Art of Enterprise: Israhel van Meckenem’s 15th-Century Print Workshop” comes from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The Kress Foundation devotes its resources to advancing the study, preservation and enjoyment of European art, architecture and archaeology from antiquity to the early 19th century.

Chazen Museum of Art
Art of Enterprise: Israhel van Meckenem’s 15th-Century Print Workshop
December 18th, 2023 - March 24th, 2024

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