Beaming a parable to European Renaissance art classes

Of the many classes utilising the Print Collection during semester one, European Renaissance Art receive the gold star for the most visits and for some very engaging interactions with the collection.

With a fly on the wall vantage onto the classes, it is intriguing to view one of the prints selected for their seminar topic: The Print Revolution, which was Daniel Hopfer’s Interior of the Church with the Parable of the Mote and the Beam (c.1520). Students commenced their study of the print with some close visual examination and this produced some confused expressions as well as some muffled laughter. For central to the image is a figure with plank of wood protruding out of his eye.

This is a very literal rendering of the proverbial saying of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew: ‘And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye’. This warning against judgment may not be in 21st century parlance but it is just one of the many insights offered by this etching.

Geographically this image is categorised as art of the Northern European Renaissance, rather than the more familiar Italian, and stylistically these works of art have different characteristics to Italian. Daniel Hopfer (1471 – 1536) as a trained armourer is perhaps best known for his contributions to adapt the metalworking process of etching on iron, to printmaking. The link to metalwork designing is most apparent in the intricate vault decoration in the print. Another innovation which can be seen developing through the image is perspective. The church, identified as St Catherine’s in Hopfer’s hometown of Augsburg, employs newly outlined mathematical principles in its execution of depth and scale.

Like many students of print culture, an essential method to appreciate prints such as Hopfer’s in context as they do, is to read them alongside Peter Parshall’s influential article: Imago contrafacta: Images and facts in the Northern Renaissance.

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