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Die Fuggerkapelle bei St. Anna in Augsburg.

The burial chapel of the Fugger family, in the Evangelical church of St. Anna in Augsburg, is by far the most important and original monument of the early German Renaissance. The chapel was constructed between 1509 and 1512, when St. Anna was still a Carmelite foundation, and over the next decade-and-a-half was outfitted with a sculpted altarpiece, four huge marble wall epitaphs carved in low relief, elaborate choir stalls with wooden busts of prophets and sibyls, a pipe organ with splendid painted shutters, a brass grill by the Vischer family of Nuremberg which in the end was never installed, and finally a marble balustrade to replace the rejected grill. The total cost to the three Fugger brothers, Ulrich, Georg, and Jakob (the Rich), amounted to approximately 15,000 gulden. Albrecht Durer's magnificent altarpiece panel for Jakob Heller of Frankfurt, by comparison, cost only 200 gulden.

Contemporaries were impressed by this stylish chapel, which was an unprecedented display by a bourgeois family. The architecture and accoutrements brilliantly synthesized southern German tradition and northern Italian novelties. But to the frustration of scholars, there is almost no documentation of the building process. The desire to attribute this crown jewel of the German Renaissance to an important artist, indeed to any artist, has generated an enormous and sometimes comic literature. The sculpted Corpus Christi group on the altar, for example, has been credited to no less than six local and not very prepossessing names; the relief epitaphs, meanwhile, have been given to nine different masters.

Until now, the deepest analysis of this muddle was to be found in Norbert Lieb's Die Fugger und die Kurnst (1952). Bruno Bushart's new monograph, however, is now the standard work on the topic, and will hold up for at least another generation.

Bushart is the former director of the Stadtische Kunstsammlungen in Augsburg and a prominent authority on southern German art. He has produced a handsome and imposing volume, weighty in tone, scrupulous in argument, measured in judgment. The book treats the architecture of the chapel and all its trimmings in ponderous sequence. The resulting "Gesamtkunstwerk" is considered as an entirety, at various chronological cross-sections of the building campaign. Bushart patiently works through all the knotty problems occasioned by the periodic renovations and destructions over the centuries, along with iconographic puzzles such as the presence of four epitaph reliefs for only three brothers. The book closes with a survey of comparable funerary installations in Germany and the rest of Europe. There are over 230 photographs and plenty of documentation, including comparative material otherwise hard to track down.

Bushart advances no wild or sensational theories about the chapel. But the book does make several important new arguments. One that might find some supporters is his adamant attribution of the altarpiece to Hans Daucher, an Augsburg sculptor of small limestone reliefs, whose later work, influenced as it was (Bushart hypothesizes) by an Italian journey, is consistent with the altarpiece's style. Thomas Eser, however, the author of the most extensive monograph on the artist (Diss. Augsburg, 1993), is reluctant to take that step without actual evidence of large-scale work by Daucher. Bushart stresses more than previous commentators the connections between the Fuggers and their emperor, Maximilian I. He argues that the choir stalls may have been designed by the imperial artist Hans Burgkmair; it is hard to tell, since the stalls were destroyed in 1817 almost without a trace. And he firmly links the iconography of the organ shutters with the famous court musician Paul Hofhaimer, according to Paracelsus the "Albrecht Durer of organists."

Most tendentious and intriguing is Bushart's conviction that the real mastermind behind the chapel was indeed none other than Albrecht Direr. It is well known that Durer designed the two central epitaphs, perhaps as early as 1506. But Bushart pushes the commission back to 1505, even before Durer's second trip to Venice. He also attributes the original architectural drawing to Durer (the extant drawing, initialed SL, would thus be a later copy). Certainly it is satisfying, at last, to envision the Fugger chapel safely in the hands of the outstanding artistic imagination of the day.

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Author:Smith, Jeffrey Chipps
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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