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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Melchior Lorck

Süleymaniye mosque, (now the Hagia Sophia), 1569, Melchior Lorck.
Bust of Christ, 1570, Melchior Lorck.
Only Christ has a more complete biography.
One of the things the mystifies me, fascinates me, and ultimately disturbs me is in thinking how unlikely it is that most artists from this century, myself included, will be remembered into the next century. In fact, it's highly unlikely anyone I know today will even survive into the next century, much less be old enough now to recall having known me either as an individual or as an artist. It's kind of humbling to realize that unless our descendants are into genealogy, they probably won't even know our names. Tell me, can you name your great grandparents? How about your great great grandparents? Of course, unlike our own parents and grandparents, etc., we have one factor prevailing in our favor in this regard--the Internet. With a little research (and some access fees) I can now trace my ancestors back to, as my dad used to say, "...back to Job." One of his ancestors was a 17th-century citizen of Rickmansworth England (a northwest suburb of London) named Job Lane. I anticipate my ancestors will find it even less difficult to peer back in time, especially given the number of my writings, images, and paintings that turn up when I type "Jim Lane" into Google.
View over Rooftops, 1555-59, Melchior Lorck
Melchior Lorck Self-portrait, 1575.
Notwithstanding all that, the fact remains, for most of us, once we die we become irrelevant. As artists, it's not so much that people in the future will be unable to see our works or know our names, but that they simply will not care. Do you care that a Danish-German artist named Melchior Lorck lived from 1526 to 1583, traveled broadly, and left behind a huge number of etchings mostly dealing with life in Turkey under the rule of the Ottoman Turks? I didn't; and except in writing about him now, I don't much care; and won't much care come tomorrow as we usher in the new year of 2015. Yet, despite the nearly five centuries since this man's birth, death, and career as an artist, we artists today have something in common with him. He is one of the few artists going that far back for which we have anything resembling a complete biography.
Georgio Vasari: Melchior who?
Giorgio Vasari (above) did his best, and art historians will forever be indebted to his biographical scholarship in writing Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, first published during Lorck's lifetime in 1550 (Lorck was not mentioned). However, Vasari labored to compiled two or three tomes covering the lives of about 250 "excellent" artists of his day (and the century before), in some cases so briefly as to further emphasize their virtual irrelevance even back then. As for Melchior Lorck, being Danish, it's unlikely the Italian, artist, architect, and biographer, Vasari, had ever heard of him. All of which brings to light the fact that we, as artists, are consciously or unconsciously striving for historical immortality. Most of us are doing a pretty lousy job of it and are unlikely to find much success along that line. Which gives us another thing in common with Melchior Lorck. He didn't find much such success along that line either.
Camel Rider, 1575, Melchior Lorck--the sultan's limousine.
Sultan Suleiman (the Magnificent),
1559, Melchior Lorck
By way of helping the poor man out during this century, Lorck was a painter, draughtsman, and engraver, born in Flensburg, a small town on Denmark's northern coast. And had he known of him, Vasari would have undoubtedly included him in his book. It would appear that, even as a young man in his early twenties, Lorck was quite adept. He likely wasn't much of a painter from all I can tell. I didn't find a single painting by the man in my research; but insofar as drawing and etching were concerned, he could, and did, literally draw anything and everything, including harpies (bottom, right), camels (above), sultans (left), mosques (top), and basilischuses (if that one flew by you, check out the creature at the bottom). Lorck was so good that, at the age of twenty-three, he received a four-year stipend (scholarship) from the King of Denmark to travel about Europe studying and practicing his art, which took him to Nuremburg, Augsburg, Rome, and eventually Constantinople where he made friends with no less than the Sultan Suleiman (the Magnificent,) and drew his picture (left). He also made a great number of tourist type drawings and prints of Turkish landmarks and Turkish people from all levels of society.
The Prospect of Constantinople (detail), ca. 1560, Melchior Lorck
Frederick II, 1582, Melchior Lorck
In all, Melchior Lorck spent not four, but ten years on the road, much of that time on the tab of Frederick II (left), one of the Hapsburg rulers of Germany, Austria, Hungary and other smaller realms making up the Holy Roman Empire at the time. Lorck ended up in Vienna where Lorck created his Prospect of Constantinople (above), a panoramic drawing of the city more than thirty-seven feet long (1145 cm) and eighteen inches tall (it took twenty-one sheets of paper). The drawing was rendered in brown and black ink with a dab or two of watercolor here and there.
Melchior Lorck leaves us a rather gruesome record of poleaxe combat from around 1570.
Harpy, 1582, Melchior Lorck
Lorck was likely the busiest artist in Germany during the latter half of the 16th-century, bouncing around, servicing first one competing monarchy than another, picking up medals, honors, and sizable paychecks from all around. Mostly he wrote books, drew maps, and did portraits while also making woodcut illustrations for the publishers of other writers' books. At one point, the King of Denmark, even hired him as a counterfeiter. Melchior Lorck died in Copenhagen around 1583 (give or take a year or so). Thanks to the careful records and letters he and others kept, we can document some eighty or ninety percent of the man's life. I wonder, five-hundred years from now (or even a hundred years from now), how many of us will be able (posthumously, of course) to claim that distinction.
The Basilischus, The Serpent King, 1548, Melchior Lorck.
What do you get when you cross a rooster with an eight-legged snake?
 (Lots of drumsticks that taste like chicken.)


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