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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The sprawling landscape paintings of Albrecht Altdorfer have led to him being considered as the original landscape painter, or at least from a modern, European perspective.

The element that was unique with Altdorfer's landscape paintings, as opposed to other members of the Danube School, was the way in which he created a tone and mood for perhaps the first time, perhaps an early movement towards the expressionist artists of the 20th century. He would make use of local landscape styles, with healthy green foliage inspired by his home town of Regensburg in Bavarian Germany.

Many of the landscape scenes in his work have since been identified within the region of Bavaria, which was also somewhat of a first as most previous artists had simply created their idea of nature as a backdrop to the key elements of the foreground, often produced purely from their imagination. The large highlight painting pictured here was titled The Battle of Alexander at Issus and may not have been one of his German-inspired scenes but is memorable because of the number of figures which are appended into the scene.

Despite its beauty, this was rare for Altdorfer paintings, with most of his scenes being devoid of anything other than flourishing countryside features. The likely reason for this divergence is that this battle scene was commissioned specifically, meaning the artist was left with little room for manoeuvre but he still created a masterpiece in any case.

There were a lot of artists during this era who financed their lives with etchings, and specifically the prints that could be reproduced from each. A similar impact was produced by Nuremburg master, Albrecht Durer who impressed in painting, etching and woodcuts. This medium was also used as a means to spreading one's reputation wider, with prints being affordable to many more people than his original paintings. Typically, artists such as Albrecht Altdorfer would collaborate etching specialists in order to take their skills as a draughtsman to market. Even the most famous names from these periods would still need to find ways to boost their incomes and produce funding for some of their less profitable artistic ventures.

Albrecht Altdorfer perhaps was the first artist to successfully sell landscape art to the European public, through his widely-available etching reproductions. This support would then boost his own paintings, which would always be his most prominent medium. For many centuries art was a discipline for the priviliged, particularly in terms of those who commissioned and purchased artworks. This German artist showed that a market existed beyond this, so long as prices were affordable, and also that landscape paintings could be a part of that.

When studying the Northern Renaissance, there will always be a greater focus on the great Netherlandish masters but it is important to remember the significant impact made by German artists such as Albrecht Altdorfer. Many of the Netherlandish artists were focused on other genres, certainly not providing the exposure to the public of landscape art that this painter managed to do. Perhaps his impact can be compared to Giorgione paintings, with this artist promoting this genre in a similar way in Italy.

Recover the Body of St Sebastian Albrecht Altdorfer
Recover the Body of St Sebastian
Communion of the Apostles Albrecht Altdorfer
Communion of the Apostles
Florian Result, Scenes for Legend of St Florian Albrecht Altdorfer
Florian Result, Scenes for Legend of St Florian
Christ Taking Leave of his Mother Albrecht Altdorfer
Christ Taking Leave of his Mother
Sebastian Altar in St Florian's Priory, Upper Austria Albrecht Altdorfer
Sebastian Altar in St Florian's Priory, Upper Austria
Entombment of Christ Albrecht Altdorfer
Entombment of Christ
Resurrection of Christ Albrecht Altdorfer
Resurrection of Christ