J. Paul Getty Museum Acquires Painting by Renaissance Artist Hans Hoffmann
January 29, 2001
Los Angeles--The J. Paul Getty Museum acquired the painting A Hare in the Forest (about 1585) by Hans Hoffmann (about 1530-1591) at Sotheby's in New York last week. One of the very few known oil paintings by the artist, it was commissioned in 1585 by Emperor Rudolph II Hapsburg, King of Hungary and Bohemia. Hoffmann, born in Nuremberg, was the preeminent artist in late 16th-century Germany working in the tradition of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528).
Measuring 24 1/4 by 30 3/4 inches, the engaging painting depicts a golden brown hare in a verdant clearing at the edge of a pine forest, chewing a leaf from a nearby stand of Lady's Mantle. Hoffmann's meticulously rendered creature is based on The Hare (1502), one of Dürer's most famous and influential watercolor nature studies, once in the collection of the same Emperor Rudolph II, now in the collection of the Albertina in Vienna. Hoffmann took Dürer's ideas a step further by animating his subjects and placing them in a narrative context. With A Hare in the Forest, the artist created a wholly innovative composition, one of the first oil paintings to focus on an animal in its natural habitat. Hoffmann's hare dwells amid the wondrous diversity of nature, a vivid tableau of plants and trees, butterflies and snails, a robin, a lizard, a grasshopper.
"A Hare in the Forest is a wonderful addition to the Getty collections," says Scott Schaefer, curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. "This 16th-century depiction of a close-up view of living nature is the first example of its kind in European art. It's a kind of painting that reaches its final conclusion, 300 years later, in van Gogh's Irises. Hoffmann's painting also relates well to studies by Dürer and Hoffmann already in our drawings collection, to the early tradition of plant and animal depictions in our breviaries, to the finely wrought and unusual objects from the Rudolfino Kunstkammer in our decorative arts collection, as well as to the scientific observation achieved by Jan Breughel, whose The Entry of the Animals into Noah's Ark is particularly beloved by Getty visitors. This new acquisition significantly advances the Museum's holdings of German painting from this period."
A Hare in the Forest is the quintessential example of the late 16th-century Kunstkammer (art treasury) aesthetic that celebrated the marvels of art and nature. Hoffmann's keen observation of nature was matched by masterful technique, characterized by finely nuanced and economical brushwork, and by the use of a distinctive stippling technique to evoke the texture of fur. In A Hare in the Forest, he creates sinuous and elegant forms out of the finely wrought saber leaves of the thistle, the sprawling fronds of a plantain, and the bright blue flowers of the Hare Bell. In fact, none of these plants could co-exist in nature, but the artist's convincing artifice creates a visual microcosm to delight the viewer.
A Hare in the Forest also represents the growth of patronage outside of the church. Art patrons played a significant role in the evolution of Renaissance art, as a wider spectrum of society began to participate in the development of culture. This painting was commissioned by Emperor Rudolph II, one of the most important patrons and collectors at the time. Many of the greatest living scientists and artists were employed at Rudolph's court, in Prague, where Hoffmann was appointed court painter in 1585.
The Getty's new painting will go on view in the Museum in late February.
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