Gerson Digital : Denmark


7.1 Studying the Use of prints

The reliance on prints by Danish painters and woodcarvers during the Renaissance has been widely accepted since the publication of Christian Axel Jensen’s Danske Snedkere og Billedsnidere in 1911. Jensen was, however, primarily concerned with tracing stylistic development from late Gothic ornamentation to a renaissance style based on classical architectural principles and, for that reason, he was exclusively interested in the use of ornamental prints and model books, especially Hans Vredeman de Vries’ caryatids and herms. It was only around 1950 that researchers began to address the question of Danish artists’ use of printed models for their biblical histories.1 The leading scholar in the field was Erik Moltke, who, as editor of Denmark’s Churches, established an image archive that quickly became an invaluable tool in identifying both groups of related works of art and the models used to produce them. Moltke elaborated on his findings in particular in the art historical surveys that concluded the volumes on the churches of Southern Jutland and Copenhagen County.2 In an article of 1956 Moltke summarized his findings by concluding that artists most frequently copied Netherlandish and German artists of the late 16th and early 17th century, the latter primarily through the efforts of the Southern Netherlandish engravers of the Sadeler family. For instance,  Moltke made a special case of tracing the frequent use of Johann Sadeler’s prints after Peter de Witte’s Last Supper [1-2].3 Moltke’s studies showed how knowledge of the use of printed models was important to understanding the creative process and artistic practices in early modern Denmark and was also pertinent to the identification of the work of individual workshops.

Moltke’s studies established the identification of printed models as a popular topic for Denmark’s Churches.  Moltke’s successor, Hugo Johannsen, has continued studies into the importance of prints for early modern Danish art. In an article from 1984, he pointed to the significance of Hendrick Goltzius’ prints for several of Christian IV’s decorative projects as well as later aristocratic projects.4 Johannsen was thus able to show that Netherlandish Mannerism and especially Goltzius’ prints were highly important to the introduction of the international mannerist style at the Danish court and its subsequent adoption by the aristocracy. Equally important, he documents that producing works of art by copying prints was not confined to the lower end of the market. It was a feature shared by both Danish and international silversmiths, woodcarvers and painters working for the court.5 Following Johannsen’s studies Goltzius has been generally recognized as a key influence on 17th-century Danish art, for instance by Margit Thøfner, who noted, however, that the Haarlemmer’s popularity cannot simply be understood as a dissemination of the tastes at the Oldenburg court, but was also spread through the international trade in prints.6

In recent years, studies have tended to move away from the identification of printed models towards analyzing how the models were given new meaning within a Danish context. Of particular importance is Eva de la Fuente Pedersen’s study of the wood carver Abel Schrøder,7 in which she argued that the popularity of certain Biblical histories as well as the many alterations of the printed models that were introduced in the finished work of art must be understood in relation to the doctrines of Lutheran orthodoxy which came to dominate the Danish church in the 17th century.8 Margit Thøfner has backed De la Fuente Pedersen’s argument, in an analysis of how models provided by Goltzius were altered either through the amplification of the inscriptions, the addition of new text or simply through the arrangement of the images within the altarpiece.9

Hans Sadeler after Peter de Witte (I)
The Last Supper
paper, copper engraving 264 x 392 mm
upper center : COENA DOMINI.
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet, inv./ RP-P-OB-5320

studio of Jens Olufsen and attributed to Sten Adamsen and attributed to Hans Bølling
Altar piece from Billum church (Denmark) with Scenes from the Passion of Christ, 1647
panel, oil paint, wood ? x ? cm
Billum, Billum Kirke

The existing research has identified Netherlandish prints as the single most important source of models for 17th-century Danish artists. Perhaps as a consequence of the enormous volume of material at hand – both Danish church furnishings and Netherlandish religious prints – the research has tended to focus on limited issues such as an individual print, the production of a workshop or a single printmaker’s role. Goltzius’ prints have been credited as especially important, but their influence has not been analyzed in relation to the broader currents in the use of prints as models for religious art in Denmark. The ongoing publication of Denmark’s Churches makes it possible to put forth some general observations on the use of prints and the role of Northern Netherlandish print publishers.  Since it became a field of interest among the editors c. 1950, the corpus has expanded by several volumes, including the descriptions of all the more than 500 churches in the counties Frederiksborg (1964-1979), Holbæk (1979-1994), Ribe (1979-2003) and Aarhus (1968-2008). These volumes can be said to represent a relatively up to date cross-section of current knowledge on the use of prints across Denmark.


1 See for example Arnvig 1942-46; Andersen 1942-46a and Andersen 1942-46b; Elling 1945; Zachariasen 1950; Garde 1961.

2 Moltke et al. 1951 pp. 2258-2265; Moltke et al. 1963, passim.

3 Moltke 1956, pp. 105-125.

4 Johannsen 1983, pp. 85-111.

5 The findings published in Denmark’s Churches have been considerably expanded in respect to the art of Jutland by the combined effort of Merete Bergild and Jens Jensen, see for instance Bergild/Jensen 1989; Bergild/Jensen 1989A; Bergild/Jensen 1990; Bergild/Jensen 1990A; Bergild/Jensen 1991. Jönsson 1978 should also be mentioned in this context, even if it was never released to the public.

6 Thøfner 2011, p. 117.

7 De la Fuente Pedersen 1998, pp. 88-89.

8 De la Fuente Pedersen 1998, pp. 193-201.

9 Thøfner 2011.

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