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Martin Schongauer (about 1450-91)

Schongauer was the first great German artist to make engravings, and the earliest engraver with a known identity. He was born in Colmar, where his father, a goldsmith from Augsburg, had settled in 1445. In 1465 he is recorded as a student in Leipzig University, which suggests that he was born between 1445 and 1450.

He established his workshop in Colmar in 1471, and two years later completed his only dated painting, The Virgin of the Rose Bower (Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar). A number of his panel paintings survive, as do some wall paintings in the church at Breisach, on the east bank of the Rhine some twenty kilometres from Colmar, where he became a citizen in 1489.

Schongauer's paintings combine the late Gothic themes of Rhineland religious art with the new illusionism of Netherlandish oil painting. His great achievement was to introduce those qualities to engraving, while preserving the technical mastery of metalworking that he had acquired from his father. Many of his one hundred and sixteen signed (but undated) engravings survive in fifty or sixty impressions, indicating that they were carefully preserved by their owners. When the young Albrecht Dürer reached Colmar in 1492, he found that the master was already dead. Nonetheless, by basing his engraving style on the model exemplified in Schongauer's prints, Dürer became the greatest engraver of all time.

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