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Master MZ

(Matthäus Zasinger, born 1477 in Munich, where he was active from 1500–1503)

The Embrace. Engraving. 15.5 x 10.3 cm. 1503. Bartsch VI, 378, 15, Lehrs VIII, 365, 16.

The master MZ, alias Matthäus Zasinger, is an artistic figure whose life and work were long shrouded in mystery. Active in southern Germany, in all probability in Munich, he produced a printed oeuvre encompassing twenty-two engravings, six of which date to between 1500 and 1503. As an artist Zasinger straddles two worlds. His works reveal similarities with outstanding 15th century predecessors, such as Israhel van Meckenem, as well as stylistic and iconographical borrowings from Albrecht Dürer, the great artist and luminary from Nuremberg at the onset of the 16th century.

To quote Max Lehrs, the Embrace is “unquestionably the finest and most mature” of Zasinger’s prints. He adds: “No other work matches it for loving execution, depth of feeling and atmo­spheric content”. In its intimacy and meticulous depiction of domestic details the composition is very much in the late Gothic tradition and recalls compositions by Israhel van Meckenem. A young, expensively dressed couple are wrapped in a tender embrace in a small panelled room, the details of which are ren­dered with loving precision. In front of the window, which affords a view of a landscape with a castle and a tall tree, stands an ornate Gothic table with a solitary glass. Other items of late Gothic interior furnishings include the open wall cupboard next to the window, the round mirror, the towel roll and the female chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The artist has dis­creetly inserted his monogram on a little panel in the bottom right foreground. The door through which the elegant young man with his splendid feather cap has just entered stands slightly ajar, thus injecting an additional element of tension into the composition. Everything radiates an affectionate intimacy and pleasant harmony; it is as if are looking through a mirror at the everyday world of around 1500.

This gem of a print is extremely rare. Lehrs mentions a mere handful of contemporary impressions, inter alia from the collections of Lanna, Davidsohn and Passavant. In 1921 C.G. Boer­ner sold an impression in Leipzig to the reputable London art dealer Colnaghi for the then astronomical sum of 65,000 reichsmarks. A very fine, harmonious and even impression, trimmed to the platemark. Minor ageing, other in excellent unrestored condition.

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