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Travel Tip: Art and Archaeology in England
Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance

Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance
LONDON  •  The National Gallery  •  Ongoing

'Strange: unusual or surprising; difficult to understand or explain'

'Beauty: a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, which please the aesthetic senses, especially the sight'

Oxford English Dictionary, 2013

The German Renaissance was part of the cultural and artistic awakening that spread across Northern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. German artists such as Dürer developed an international reputation, their fame reaching all parts of Europe, while renowned humanist scholars such as Erasmus of Rotterdam, the patron of Hans Holbein the Younger, played a leading role in reviving the study of classical texts in the service of Christianity.

Paintings such as The Ambassadors by Holbein, Christ taking Leave of his Mother by Albrecht Altdorfer, Cupid complaining to Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Portrait of a Man by Hans Baldung Grien and Saint Jerome by Albrecht Dürer were highly valued in the 16th century for qualities such as expression and inventiveness. However, by the 19th and early 20th centuries German Renaissance art was receiving a very mixed reception. Some viewers admired the artists' technical mastery and their embodiment of a perceived German national identity; others perceived these works of art as excessive or even ugly, particularly when compared to works of the Italian Renaissance.

Lucas Cranach the Elder: Cupid Comlaining to Venus
Lucas Cranach the Elder: Cupid complaining to Venus

Views such as these – alongside the shifting attitudes towards the German nation in the UK following the First and Second World Wars – were to have a direct effect on the formation and growth of the Gallery, and indeed all the UK national collections.

This was strongly evidenced in 1856 when the Trustees of the National Gallery sold the Krüger Collection – the only time in its entire history that the Gallery has had an Act of Parliament passed to de-accession and sell pictures. This group of 64 early Westphalian paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries was acquired for the Gallery by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Gladstone, in 1854. However just three years later, 37 works were sold as they did not fit in with the 'present state of the Gallery' (as National Gallery Trustees Minutes noted at the time).

A highlight of the exhibition is, for the first time ever, a reconstruction of the Liesborn altarpiece. This work was created after 1465 and originally formed the high altarpiece in the Benedictine Abbey of Liesborn in Germany. In 1803, on the suppression of the monastery, it was dismembered, sold and scattered across the globe – eight pieces remain at the Gallery as part of the Krüger Collection. Now for the first time, visitors will be able to visualise the completed altarpiece as it might have looked during the 15th century. 

The National Gallery Website

Contact: The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square
London WC2N 5DN

Tel: (44) 020 7747 2885

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