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Hans Rottenhammer the Elder

(1564 Munich – 1625 Augsburg)

Two Study Sheets after Jacopo Tintoretto’s Last Judgment. Two drawings in pen and brownish-black ink and black chalk, white heightening. Each approx. 53.5 x 44 cm. Circa 1591–1600.

The painter and draughtsman, Hans Rottenhammer the Elder, was the son of the Munich court equerry, Thomas Rotten­hammer. In 1589 he undertook the obligatory journey to Italy, like many other prominent artists of his time, travelling via Treviso to Venice, where he settled in 1591 and made drawings after paintings by great local masters like Titian and Veronese. In spring 1594 Rottenhammer stayed for a short period in Rome. Here he associated with resident Flemish artists such as Jan Brueghel and Paulus Bril and following their example started painting on copper. In Autumn 1595 Rottenhammer returned to Venice where he was to live and work until 1606. After his arrival in the Serenissima he quickly earned a reputation for his small-format cabinet paintings on copper panels, most of which were on mythological and religious themes. Among his high-ranking and aristocratic clients were Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, Duke Gonzaga of Mantua and Emperor Rudolf II, for whom he also worked as an art agent. Rottenhammer’s Venetian studio appears to have been a popular port of call for German artists.

Previously unknown to the experts, these two large-format study sheets after Jacopo Tintoretto provide an excellent illustration of the intensity with which Rottenhammer studied the works of his great Venetian predecessor. In this particular case the drawings are based on the monumental masterpiece The Last Judgement which Tintoretto produced between 1562 and 1564 for the choir of the church Madonna dell’Orto in Venice. The two drawings reproduce Tintoretto’s painting almost in its entirety. One shows the lower half of the composition with the fall of the angels and Charon’s barque, while the second portrays the upper part of the picture with the weigher of souls, the gloriole of the heavenly personnel and the redeemed souls of the righteous. The ogival end of the composition with Christ, Mary and John the Baptist is missing, however. There may have been a third, smaller study sheet, although that is not necessarily the case, since Rottenhammer was more concerned to paraphrase the array of motifs in Tintoretto’s creation, which is little short of breathtaking. The artist focused selectively on individual figures and groups of figures in the com­position, merely hinting at the rest or sometimes even omitting them entirely. This enabled him to demonstrate his artistic independence and condense Tintoretto’s overwhelming artistic world into the expressive elements that he deemed crucial. The skilful combination of chalk and ink and the broad, fluent washes prove an eminently suitable means of artistic expres­sion for what is a superb translation of Tintoretto’s dynamic use of the brush and his characteristically flickering chiaroscuro to the medium of drawing. The two masterfully executed studies represent a significant supplement to the corpus of drawings Rottenhammer made in his Venetian period.

Provenance: Collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792, Lugt 2364); Charles Paul Jean-Baptiste de Bourgevin Vialart, Comte de Saint-Morys (1772–1817, Lugt 474); Thomas Thane (1782–1846, Lugt 1811).
A detailed expertise by Dr. Heiner Borggrefe dated September 23, 2023 is available.

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