- Also known as
primary name: Pencz, Georg
- individual; painter/draughtsman; printmaker; German; Male
- Life dates
- Nuremberg painter, 'Little Master' engraver, and designer of woodcuts. Origins unknown, in Nuremberg registers 1523. Expelled for atheism 1525, though re-admitted later that year.
Painter, engraver and designer of woodcuts. c. 1500-Leipzig October 1550. Nothing is known of his origins or education: he was first recorded in 1523 as a painter in the citizen's register of Nuremberg. Pencz was influenced by Albrecht Dürer (q.v.) and is believed to have executed Dürer's designs for the decorations of the main hall in Nuremberg town hall in 1521 (destroyed) although this has never been confirmed (Landau, ‘Pencz’, pp. 6ff.). Certain writers have considered Pencz to be the same artist as the Monogrammist JB (Jörg Bentz) who made engravings from 1523 to 1530, although this view is not entirely convincing for stylistic reasons (Landau, ‘Pencz’, pp. 10ff). Together with Bartel and Sebald Beham (q.v.) he was expelled from Nuremberg in January 1525 for anarchistic statements made in support of the Peasants' War, but was re-admitted in September of the same year. It is assumed from stylistic evidence that he visited northern Italy, probably towards the end of the 1520s, and possibly Rome from 1539 to 1540 (Landau, ‘Pencz’, p. 44, n. 87). He was appointed painter to Duke Albrecht I of Saxony at Königsberg, but died en route at Leipzig.
His paintings include the ‘Passion of Christ’ on the exterior of the wings of the ‘Silver Altarpiece’ of 1531-8, made for King Sigismund I of Poland (Cracow, Wawel Cathedral), a project to which Peter Flötner (q.v.) and others also contributed. The most impressive of his painted works are portraits, such as the ‘Portrait of a young man’, dated 1534 (Berlin-Dahlem, Gemäldegalerie); the ‘Portrait of a youth’, dated 1544 (Florence, Uffizi); the ‘Portrait of Jörg Herz’, dated 1545 (Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle) and the ‘Portrait of a man’ dated 1549 (Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland). Influenced no doubt by works seen in Mantua, he apparently introduced ‘tromple l'œil’ ceiling decoration into Nuremberg, where he was commissioned to paint a series of ceiling paintings for the houses of a number of patrician families (see the designs for illusionist ceilings at University College, London, and Christ Church, Oxford (BM ‘Dürer and Holbein’, pp. 136-7, nos. 105, 106, repr.), and ‘The fall of Phaethon’ in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg).
The majority of his known engravings, the most distinguished aspect of his surviving work, were made in the manner of the so-called 'Little Masters' (see Sebald Beham and Heinrich Aldegrever).
Pencz was the leading painter in Nuremberg in the second quarter of the sixteenth century. His origins are unclear; he was not a native of the city, but was trained there. Johann Neudörfer wrote in 1547 that Pencz was brought up with the Beham brothers. He probably trained with Dürer, and was possibly involved in the execution of Dürer's designs for Nuremberg town hall in 1521 while Dürer was in the Netherlands, although this is a contentious issue (see Neudörfer, pp. 138f; Landau pp. 6ff). He was granted citizenship of Nuremberg on 8 August 1523. In January 1525 he was banished from Nuremberg, together with the Beham brothers, for his atheistic and radical statements made against the church and the authority of Nuremberg city council. After numerous appeals to have his sentence mitigated, he returned in November of the same year. No work is recorded from this period, and it seems possible that his political activity may have affected his chances of acquiring patronage at this stage of his career. Some earlier writers identified Pencz with the anonymous Monogrammist "IB" who produced engravings from 1523 to 1530, but Landau has argued convincingly that this is not so, as Pencz's earliest prints, in an undeveloped style, date from c.1529 (see Landau pp. 10ff).
Pencz probably visited northern Italy c. 1528-9, just before his earliest paintings and prints dated in the early 1530s; these include woodcuts to illustrate texts by the Poet Hans Sachs. In May 1532 he was appointed the official painter to the city of Nuremberg, and obtained an advance of his annual salary of 10 gulden on the basis of his "extreme need". In 1539 his annual stipend was raised to 24 gulden, and he made a second trip to Italy in 1539-40 to Mantua, Rome and elsewhere. His civic commissions include the design of a triumphal arch to celebrate the visit of the Emperor Charles V to Nuremberg on 16 February 1541 (see 1864,0611.428). His most impressive paintings are undoubtedly his portraits, and he is well known today for some 125 small engravings, for which he is classified with the Little Masters. Influenced by Italian 'trompe I'oeil' paintings, such as those by Andrea Mantegna and Giulio Romano in Mantua, he was also responsible for the introduction of illusionistic ceiling designs to Nuremberg, one of which was singled out for generous praise by Sandrart in 1675; others of particular note are the 'Fall of Phaeton' of 1534 and a most unusual representation of the 'Last Judgement' seen from above (see Sandrart, p. 78; Chipps Smith, pp. 57f; 'Age of Dürer and Holbein' nos 105, 106). His fame as a portraitist probably led to his appointment in 1550 as court painter to Duke Albrecht I of Saxony at Königsberg, but he died while en route at Leipzig. Although he acquired a high reputation for his work, he was, unlike the Behams, frequently in debt. A curious incident occurred the day after his death: his widow accused him of having pawned some silver which had been entrusted to his safekeeping by a citizen of Nuremberg for the journey to Königsberg. The matter was eventually resolved in 1551 by the council of Nuremberg which "in view of his many sons, his great poverty, and the fact that he was a fine artist" paid Pencz's debt for him and reproached the widow for her behaviour (see Landau p. 74).
- Bartsch VIII pp.319-62; David Landau, 'GP' 1978; Hollstein
A full catalogue and discussion of the paintings, together with archival records and references in the early literature, is given in H. G. Gmelin, 'Georg Pencz als Maler', 'Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst', xvii, 1966, pp.49ff. The main catalogue of the woodcuts, in which forty are listed, is H. Röttinger, 'Die Holzschnitte des Georg Pencz', Leipzig, 1914; but the writer concurs with the generally discredited identification of Pencz with the Master "IB". A complete catalogue of the prints with full discussion and bibliography is David Landau, 'Catalogo completo dell'opera grafica di Georg Pencz' (with an English translation by Anthony Paul), Milan, 1978.
ADD Katrin Dyballa, 'Georg Pencz', Deutsche Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft 2014.