OIL PAINTS THAT COULD KILL: DID ALBRECHT AND MARGRET DURER POISON THEIR CUSTOMERS WITH THEIR PAINTINGS? PART III

By Dr. Elizabeth Garner and Joe Kiernan, copyright January 2014 POISON PAINTINGS

In PART I of this series you were informed about how POISONOUS the pigments were that Albrecht or Margret Durer used in paintings, especially the reds, the greens, the blues, the whites, the yellows and the blacks. And we learned that German curators have already established that many of the paintings are overpainted, thus not sealingoff the poison pigment(s) by either those who were jealous, understood the Cipher and wished to cover it up, or were bad restorers. Even if a Dürer sealed a painting, all they would have to do is overpaint on the sealed coat to poison clients, just even a little bit.  Or if any paintings were covered with new pigments to conceal any trace of the Cipher by others who realized there were clues or were doing restoration, the new paint would be sitting on the surface in brilliant fashion poisoning by the day. German curators have already proved  there are many areas of overpaintings in the Dürer’s paintings.

WERE ANY PAINTINGS UNSEALED?  OR OVERPAINTED AND UNSEALED? THE ANSWER IS YES.   Even if a Dürer sealed a painting, all they would have to do is overpaint on the sealed coat to poison clients, just even a little bit.  Or if any paintings were covered with new pigments to conceal any trace of the Cipher by others who realized there were clues or were doing restoration, the new paint would be sitting on the surface in brilliant fashion poisoning by the day. German curators have already proved  there are many areas of overpaintings in the Dürer’s paintings. WHO

 

THE DURER’S HATED-AS SHOWN BY COLOR ADAM AND EVA-THE FIRST LIFESIZE PORTRAITS IN EUROPE

We don’t know for whom these paintings were commissioned but we do know they were acquired by the Bishop of Breslau, Johan V Thurzo, a distant relation to the Fugger Family and then ended up in the collection of the Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. It’s clearly obvious by the  use of poisonous colors, it wasn’t someone the Dürers liked

The 1507 Adam and Eva paintings

Look at Eva’s flesh, it’s described as “whiter than white” than Adam’s skin-white lead everywhere, with the poisonous green right at the genitals, with the killer black paint in extraordinary amounts.

 

THE HELLER ALTARPIECE

The Heller Altar was an oil on panel triptych by German Renaissance artists Dürer  and Mathhias Grünwald, executed between 1507 and 1509. In 1615, Dürer copyist Jakob Harrich painted a duplicate, which is now at the Staedel Museum of Franfurt. In 1615, the central panel, the only one by Dürer alone, was sold to Maximilian of Bavaria; a copy was ordered to replace the original in its location at the church’s high altar. The central panel was destroyed by a fire in Munich in 1729. The side panels, executed by Dürer’s assistants, were completed by four others commissioned to Matthias Grünewald in 1510. The side shutters were detached in the 18th century, and each of the two panels composing them were separated in 1804.

 

This altarpiece was commissioned by Jakob Heller (1460-1522), a wealthy merchant, member of the town council, and mayor of Frankfurt, either before or after Dürer’s second trip to Italy. Only the central element depicting the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin was executed by Dürer himself. The altarpiece was destroyed by a fire in the residence of Duke Maximilian of Bavaria in Munich. Fortunately, a copy of the work, executed c. 1614 by Jobst Harrich of Nuremberg (c. 1580-1617) survived.  Albrecht was receiving many commissions after having won the “paint-off” with the Italians in Venice in 1506, especially from his old patron the Elector, Duke Friedrich of Saxony.  Albrecht wrote to Heller (of course the originals were lost but there were copies paid for by the Archduke Maximillian of Bavaria who acquired the paintings and wanted the provenance and documentation as well-those German scribe copyists were very busy).

He tells us that he was sick returning from Venice (all that partying) and he had to finish The Elector’s altarpiece first-The Martyrdom of the 10,000, and then he would start on Heller’s altarpiece. The outcome of the whole situation was that Heller misunderstood all of Albrecht’s intentions, almost sued him for breach of contract, trashed Albrecht’s reputation to everyone in town and pissed off Albrecht beyond comprehension.  In his last letter to Heller, Albrecht makes the following remarks: “I have painted it with great care, as you will see, using none but the best colors. It is painted with good ultramarine under and over about 5 or 6 times. And then after it was finished I OVERPAINTED IT TWICE MORE so that it may last a long time, for it is NOT MADE AS ONE USUALLY PAINTS. So don’t let it be touched or sprinkled with holy water…….And place the painting so that it hangs forward two or three finger-breadths, so it can be seen without glare.  And when I come to you in a year or two, or three, IF THE PICTURE IS PROPERLY DRY, it must be taken down and I will varnish it again with some excellent varnish THAT NO ONE ELSE CAN MAKE…”

What the original painting of the Heller altarpiece is believed to have looked like

Do we see enough blues and reds, and greens, and orpiment, and lead white to kill a horse, especially if the painting wouldn’t be dry for possibly three years?

THE MARTYDOM OF THE 10,000 FOR THE ELECTOR, DUKE FRIEDRICH OF SAXONY

The altarpiece depicts the legend of the ten thousand Christians who were martyred on Mount Ararat, in a massacre perpetrated by the Persian King Saporat on the command of the Roman Emperors Hadrian and Antonius. Dürer had depicted this massacre a decade earlier in a woodcut. The painting was commissioned by Frederick the Wise, who owned relics from the massacre, and it was placed in the relic chamber of his palace church in Wittenberg (ie. at home). Although Dürer had never before tackled a painting with so many figures, he succeeded in integrating them into a flowing composition using vibrant colour. Dürer’s gruesome scene depicts scores of Christians meeting a violent death in a rocky landscape, providing a veritable compendium of tortures and killings. The oriental potentate in the blue cloak and turban who is directing the action in the lower right corner of the picture, would in Dürer’s time have been perceived as a reference to the threat of Turkish invasion, because of the seizure of Constantinople in 1453. In the centre of the painting is the rather incongruous figure of the artist, holding a staff with the inscription: `This work was done in the year 1508 by Albrecht Dürer, German.’ The man walking with him through this scene of carnage is probably the scholar Konrad Celtis, a friend of Dürer’s who had died just before the painting was completed.

The Marytrdom of the Ten Thousand made for the Elector, Duke Friedrich of Saxony, probably the 5th most powerful person in Germany. The duke later became protector of Martin Luther; without the Duke’s protection, Luther would never have survived

I think you can see enough poisonous paints in this  painting to realize the Dürers also hated the Duke. 

PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN

Unknown man

Blacks, lead white, reds.  This striking portrait, painted in Venice, shows a thoughtful young man, richly dressed and dramatically set against a black background. His thick ginger hair, partly hidden by his dark hat, frames his face. The small part of his red shirt showing adds a dramatic touch of colour. Charles I acquired this work for the Royal Collection.

PORTRAIT OF BURKHARD VON SPEYER

Portrait of Burkhard von Speyer

The sitter was identified as Burkard von Speyer after it was realized that he looks just like the man in a miniature in Weimar by an unknown artist, also dated 1506 and inscribed with his name. Nothing more is known about him, although presumably he originally came from Speyer, a town on the Rhine near Heidelberg. Burkard von Speyer also appears in The Altarpiece of the Rose Garlands. Wearing the same clothing, he is on the left side of the picture, just to the right of the first kneeling cardinal. You can’t get a blacker portrait with the reds, and the lead white than the one Albrecht made for Charles V

THE FEAST OF THE ROSE GARLANDS

This is the painting that won the “paint-off” between the Venetian Italians and Dürer in 1506. This panel was painted for an altar for the German community in Venice, in the church of S. Bartolomeo near the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the social and commercial centre of the German colony, where it remained until 1606. It was then acquired, after many negotiations, for 900 ducats by Emperor Rudolph II. According to Sandrart (1675), four men were hired to bring the packaged painting to the emperor’s residence in Prague. Stationed elsewhere during the invasion of the Swedish troops, the painting, already very damaged, returned to its place in 1635. It underwent a first restoration in 1662. In 1782, it was sold in an auction for one florin. After having passed through the hands of various collectors, it was acquired by the Czechoslovakian state in 1930. The painting, severely damaged chiefly in the centre portion, from the head of the Madonna and continuing downward to the bottom, was clumsily restored in the nineteenth century; in this restoration, the upper side portion, left of the canopy and to Saint Dominic’s head, was also included. Three copies of the work are known: one – considered the most important and which now belongs to a private collection – is attributed to Hans Rottenhamer, who sojourned in Venice from 1596 to 1606, where he took care of many acquisitions on behalf of Rudolph II; another is in Vienna; and the third, a rather modified version of the original, is in Lyon.

Feast of the Rose Garlands

Enough toxic paint to kill all the Italians and the Germans too.

 

PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG VENETIAN WOMAN

The portrait is one of the first works of the artist during his second sojourn in Venice. It was painted in the autumn or in the winter of 1506.With reference to some of the details, it has been repeatedly made known that the portrait is unfinished.

Portrait of an unknown Venetian Woman

Reds, Lead white and black added for extra danger, left unfinished.

THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI

The Elector, Frederick the Wise of Saxony ordered this painting for the Schlosskirche (the church in the castle) in Wittenberg. It was once believed to be the central part of a polyptych, with, on the side wings, the story of Job, in Frankfurt and Cologne. However, this hypothesis has already been called into question. The Elector of Saxony then donated the painting to Emperor Rudolph II in 1603. An exchange with the Presentation at the Temple by Fra Bartolomeo brought it in 1793 from the gallery in Vienna to the Uffizi. Dürer framed and delimited a large space by an architecture composed of arches of a very refined perspective. The three kings arrived at this slightly elevated space from the back and after having climbed two steps. A single figure, sharply foreshortened, followed in their footsteps from the distant background. Only the upper half of his body is shown where he now stands at the bottom of the two steps. He is Oriental and wearing a turban. The heavy traveling bag he holds probably contains precious gifts for the infant Jesus. The Madonna is clad in azure clothes and cape, a white veil covering her head. She is holding out the infant, who is wrapped in her white veil, to the eldest king (who wears deadly GREEN clothing). He is offering the infant a gold casket with the image of Saint George, which the infant has already taken with his right hand. This is the only action that unfolds in the principal scene, except for the Oriental servant’s gesture of putting his hand in his bag. All the other characters are motionless; immersed in thought, they look straight ahead or sideways, creating the effect of a staged spectacle set with immobile characters.

Every color in this painting is horrendously toxic and right in the viewer’s face and nostrils.

Adoration of the Magi made for The Elector, Duke Friedrich of Saxony

THE PAUMGARTNER ALTAR

The Paumgartner Altar

This triptych was commissioned by the brothers Stephan and Lukas Paumgartner for St Catherine’s Church in Nuremberg. The main panel depicts the Nativity, set in an architectural ruin. The left wing shows St George with a fearsome dragon and the right wing St Eustace, with both saints dressed as knights and holding identifying banners. A seventeenth-century manuscript records that the side panels were painted in 1498 and that the two saints were given the features of the Paumgartner brothers (with Stephan on the left and Lukas on the right). This is the earliest occasion on which an artist is known to have used the facial features of a donor in depicting a saint. But of course, Stephan was Albrecht’s lover.

The small figures at the bottom corners of the central panel are the Paumgartner family with their coats of arms. They were painted over in the seventeenth century, when donor portraits went out of favour, and were only uncovered during restoration in 1903. On the left behind Joseph are the male members of the family, Martin Paumgartner, followed by his two sons Lukas and Stephan and an elderly bearded figure who may be Hans Schönbach, second husband of Barbara Paumgartner. On the far right is Barbara Paumgartner (née Volckamer), with her daughters Maria and Barbara. Every color in this altarpiece is toxic and especially with the restoration could still be.

THE VIRGIN OF THE SEVEN SORROWS

This panel is a large picture depicting Mary as the Mother of Sorrows. It was severely damaged in an attack when acid was thrown at it in 1988, and ten years have been spent restoring it. It is the central picture of the seven scenes from the Passion which are in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. The work was presumably ordered by Elector Frederick the Wise for the Wittenberg university chapel.

The Virgin of the Seven Sorrows made for the Elector, Duke Friedrich of Saxony

Black, lead white, Orpiment and blue (which doesn’t show in this picture well but I just saw the painting at the Staedel)-a deadly toxic painting for all to look at, worship, and inhale. And this brings us to the end of the examples of deadly toxic paintings the Dürers made for their “patrons.”  Thank goodness these are all in Museums where only the staff are still exposed to such dangers. We will discuss the family portraits, which are also made with deadly pigments in a future article.

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