Martin Schongauer, was an Alsatian engraver and painter. He was the most important printmaker north of the Alps before Albrecht Dürer. Schongauer was born in about 1440 in Colmar, Alsace, probably the third of the four sons of Caspar Schongauer, a goldsmith from Augsburg who taught his son the art of engraving.
As a painter, Schongauer was a follower, through the teachings of his probable master Caspar Isenmann, of the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden, and his rare existing pictures closely resemble, both in splendour of colour and exquisite minuteness of execution, the best works of his contemporaries in Flanders.
Only a few of his paintings survive, the most notable of them being the Madonna in the Rose Garden, painted for St Martin’s Church, Colmar. The Musée d´Unterlinden in Colmar possesses eleven panels by him or his workshop, and a small panel of David with Goliath’s Head in Munich is attributed to him.
The main work of Schongauer’s life was the production of a large number of beautiful engravings, which were largely sold, not only in Germany, but also in Italy and even in England and Spain. His subjects are mainly religious, but include comic scenes of ordinary life such as the Peasant family going to market or the Two apprentices fighting. One hundred and sixteen engravings are generally recognised as by his hand, and since several are only known from a single impression, there were probably others that are now lost. Many of his pupils’ plates as well as his own are signed, M†S, as are many copies probably by artists with no connection to him.
Among the most renowned of Schongauer’s engravings are the series of the Passion and the Death and Coronation of the Virgin, and the series of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. All are remarkable for their miniature-like treatment, their brilliant touch, and their chromatic force. Some, such as the Death of the Virgin and the Adoration of the Magi are richly-filled compositions of many figures, treated with much largeness of style in spite of their minute scale.
He established the system of depicting volume by means of cross-hatching (lines in two directions) which was further developed by Dürer, and was the first engraver to curve parallel lines, Schongauer was one of the first German engravers to “rise above the Gothic limitations both of setting and type” and that he “actualises an idea of beauty which in its nearer approach to more absolute ideals appeals to a far more universal appreciation” than earlier engravers.