Danube School
Pioneering Style of German Landscape Painting/Etching.

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Danubian Landscape (1520-25)
By Albrecht Altdorfer.
National Gallery, London.

The Danube School (c.1490-1540)


What is the Danube School?
Origins and History
Paintings/Prints of the Danube School
Other German Renaissance Painters

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.
For a quick guide to specific
styles, see: Art Movements.

What is the Danube School?

In fine art, the term "Danube school" (Donauschule) describes a pioneering tradition of landscape painting practiced by a number of German and Austrian painters, during the early 16th century. Their favourite subjects were the forests and hills of the Danube valley, roughly between Nuremberg in the west and Vienna in the east. A reflection of the unique character of the German Renaissance, when compared to High Renaissance painting in Italy, the Danube School was not a formal group: indeed, all the artists involved worked independently of each other. Instead, it refers to the importance they placed on painting landscape for its own sake - a recognition that a picture of scenic beauty might have independent value, as a stand-alone work of art. It embraced several different media, such as drawing, etching and woodcuts), as well as oil painting. Uninfluenced by the High Renaissance in Rome, and divorced from the precision and polish favoured by Flemish Painting and the Netherlandish Renaissance, the principal Old Masters involved in the Danube school were the Regensburg painter Albrecht Altdorfer (1480-1538), the Franconian artist Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), and Wolf Huber (1485-1553) from the Vorarlberg. Others included: Jorg Breu the Elder (1475–1537), Rueland Frueauf the Younger (1470–1545), Erhart Altdorfer (1480–1561), Hans Leu the Younger (1490–1531), Hans Leinberger (1475/80-1531), Melchior Feselen (1495-1538), Augustin Hirschvogel (1503-53) and Hans Sebald Lautensack (1524-60). Many of these Danubian artists were contemporaries of the North German Cologne School of painting on the lower Rhine.

Today, art critics see the Danube school as a highly avant-garde circle, and an important precursor of the German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), as well as the 19th-century school of English landscape painting, led by JMW Turner (1775-1851).


Origins and History

During the approximate period 1490-1540, a number of painters and printmakers sharing similar stylistic characteristics - who were active in the Danube valley, came to be christened the "Danube School", a term first coined by the German art historians Theodor von Frimmel (1853-1928) and Hermann Voss (1884-1969). Danube school members were among the earliest artists to paint landscape for its own sake, rather than as a vehicle for a historical or allegorical narrative. (Note: for examples of the latter, see: Examples include: The Annunciation (1472) by Leonardo Da Vinci; Ecstasy of St Francis (1480) by Giovanni Bellini; The Tempest (1508) by Giorgione. This tradition was later maintained by Claude Lorrain (1600-82) in works like Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, 1648.) The Danube school was partly influenced (in its figurative drawing) by Matthias Grunewald (c.1475-1528). In addition, attention should be paid to the possible input of the Antwerp-based Joachim Patenier (1485-1524), one of the most innovative of Flemish painters, who was the original pioneer of landscape as an independent painting genre. He may well have influenced the Danube artists through his contacts with both Grunewald and Albrecht Durer (1471-1528).


In addition to the woods and hills around the Danube River, the region contained a wealth of picturesque abbeys, castles, churches in the surrounding towns like Aggsbach, Kremsmunster, Melk, Oberaltaich, Zwettl and Guttenstettin, and in the old imperial city of Regensburg. All these sites were represented in the painting and printmaking of the Danube School. In addition, other themes included religious art - an early specialty of Jorg Breu who produced a series of intense altarpieces for monasteries in Lower Austria. In fact, it was Breu and Rueland Frueauf, who himself worked in the abbey at Klosterneuberg, who are seen as the original members of the school. Its principal exponents, Altdorfer and Cranach, were themselves utterly captivated by the wild Danubian landscape, along with its misty atmosphere and atmospheric effects of light and weather - which dominated many of their paintings during the early 16th century. Fired by a romantic, lyrical attitude to nature, they set the tone which largely defined the school. Danube school painters also shared a lyrical freedom in the handling of line and colour reminiscent of late German Gothic art, which lent their works a decorative dimension, sometimes described as "fantasy realism". (See also: German Medieval Art.)

Paintings/Prints of the Danube School

Altdorfer in particular is noted for his evocative landscapes reflecting his fascination with light and colour. Some of his famous landscape paintings include: Landscape with Satyr Family (1507, Staatliche Museen, Berlin); Landscape with Footbridge (1518, National Gallery, London); as well as Saint. George in the Forest (1510); Danubian Landscape (1520-25); and View of the Danube Valley near Regensburg (1522-25), all in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Not all of the school's works, however, were pure landscapes - they also included altarpieces and townscapes, and a number of religious paintings - although most included elements or a background of landscape. Thus, for instance, Altdorfer placed biblical scenes into Danubian landscapes, as in Susanna in the Bath and the Stoning of the Elders (1526, Alte Pinakothek, Munich), which is set in the garden of a Renaissance palace. Lucas Cranach's Pieta beneath the Cross (1510, Moravska Galerie, Brno) is painted in similar vein with an atmospheric scenic light in the background, as is his panel painting The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1504, Staatliche Museen, Berlin).

Huber produced a number of pen and ink drawings after nature such as Landscape near Feldkirch (1527, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich) and Landscape with Castle (1545-50, Ducal Graphic Collection, Wolfegg), as did others.

Prints by artists of the Danube school include numerous woodcuts and etchings, as exemplified by Altdorfer's Landscape with a Double Spruce in the Foreground (1520–22) and Entrance Hall of the Regensburg Synagogue (1519), both in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Other German Renaissance Painters

Stefan Lochner (c.1400-51)
Leader of the Cologne School of painting noted for his Three Kings Altarpiece.
Michael Pacher (1435-98)
Austrian religious artist, famous for the Altarpiece of the Church Fathers.
Martin Schongauer (1448-91)
Colmar-born graphic artist, printmaker and painter.
Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545)
German Renaissance painter and engraver.
Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610)
German Baroque landscape artist & history painter.

Works of the Danube school of landscape painting can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world.

• For a chronological guide to the evolution of painting in Germany, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For information about the German Renaissance, see: Homepage.

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