Adam Elsheimer is an artist who inspired the great Rembrandt and amazed modern astronomers.
The artist, whose name is consonant with the name of the famous German psychiatrist, was born several centuries earlier and gained, it would seem, much less popularity. But among the painters, Elsheimer appeared earlier and is now a very noticeable figure thanks to his distinctive manner, combining all the best from different art schools.
The beginning of creativity
Adam Elsheimer was born in 1578 in Frankfurt am Main, he was the eldest of ten children in a tailor’s family. The house in which the future artist grew up was located not far from the Dominican monastery church, where the so-called “Geller’s Altar” was painted by Albrecht Dürer by order of the merchant Jacob Geller.
Albrecht Durer was one of the first artists whose works inspired Adam to study painting.
In his hometown, Adam went to study with the painter Philip Uffenbach, who introduced Elsheimer to the work of the largest German artists and, obviously, instilled in the young artist a real interest in this field of art, because at the age of twenty, Elsheimer went to Munich, and after him to Italy – to study the fine arts of the Renaissance and Baroque.
Italian period of creativity
In Venice, the artist entered the workshop of Hans Rottenhammer, the first German artist to write in the genre of the so-called cabinet painting: he created small-sized paintings with a high degree of detail. Such work was in demand in small rooms, offices.
Studying in Italy gave Elsheimer a rich experience of acquaintance with the works of Tintoretto, Veronese and other Italian masters – all this affected his own style.
Elsheimer preferred subjects on religious and mythological themes – and, following the example of the great Italians, created a romantic, poetic mood on the canvases. Moreover, the size of the works was usually small, and the accuracy of reproduction of details is very high, the artist worked slowly and carefully. The main achievement of Elsheimer’s career is considered to be the skill of transmitting lighting, contrasts and the play of light and shadow, due to which his manner of writing quickly gained popularity in the artistic environment of that time.
When portraying night scenes, the artist often used several light sources, such as, for example, in the painting “Fire of Troy” – the fire itself, the flickering of candles, the sparkle of stars — all create the effect of volume, air, space.
The painting “Escape to Egypt”, perhaps the most famous among the works of Elsheimer, is remarkable in addition to its artistic merit because it also depicts stars very carefully – their location corresponds to the real look of the night sky. Studies conducted in 2005 showed that the sky above the environs of Rome looked like that on the night of June 16, 1609. It is safe to assume that the artist, known for his desire for accuracy, made observations using a telescope and, according to them, depicted stars in the picture.
Elsheimer was the first among the artists to portray the Milky Way in the form of many stars – at that time this technique was revolutionary.
The influence of Elsheimer’s work on other artists
It is known that the works of Elsheimer served as a source of inspiration to Rembrandt himself, who, in particular, very much appreciated “Philemon and Bavkid,” and Rubens acquired at least four works by a German artist for his collection.
Fragments of paintings by A. Elsheimer and Rembrandt “Stoning of St. Stephen”, on the left – the work of Elsheimer, on the right – Rembrandt
Claude Lorren, an artist who himself was considered an unsurpassed master of chiaroscuro on his canvases, drew inspiration from the works of Elsheimer. Adam Elsheimer, having moved to Rome, lived there until the end of his days, having passed away at the age of thirty-two.
Elsheimer’s artistic heritage is not numerous – about forty of his paintings and thirty drawings are known, because of the large number of copies their exact number is difficult to establish. Most of the paintings are painted on copper plates. As a painter of the Baroque era, Elsheimer relied on the experience of landscape painters from old schools, thanks to which he took a special place among European artists.
Interestingly, Rembrandt, like a number of other great painters, may have suffered from eye disease, which could affect his career and skill.