Hans Hoffmann, A Hedgehog, before 1584
Yesterday I wrote about Hans Hofmann, the 20th century Abstract Expressionist. Today I am writing about Hans Hoffmann, the 16th century Mannerist. Slightly different names, very different artists. Hans Hoffmann (c1530-1591/92) was a German painter from Nuremberg. Hoffmann came to prominence as a part of the movement that saw a renewed interest in the work of Albrecht Dürer some forty years after his death in 1528. Today Hoffmann is the best known member of that renaissance and based much of his style on the great master. Although he was also a portrait painter and draughtsman, he is mostly known for his nature studies that follow Dürer's style, some of which are direct copies. One direct homage to Dürer is Hoffmann's Small Piece of Turf, which follows Dürer's Great Piece of Turf. Hoffmann also made a copy of Dürer's famous hare. Hoffmann was quite successful in his life, becoming court painter to Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor. Although Hoffmann does not match Dürer in skill, he brings an element that is not present in the greater artist. While Dürer's nature studies are purely objective and realistic, Hoffmann anthropomorphizes his animals in a very unusual way, a way that Dürer was not interested in exploring. This beautifully rendered hedgehog is incredibly detailed and lifelike. We feel the texture of the animal's spines, and the soft fur of its underbelly. We see the fineness of its whiskers and the sharp claws. However, when we turn our attention to the hedgehog's eyes we see something beyond this realistic portrayal. There is so much character there, the hedgehog is animated and alert. It makes eye contact with us and its personality shows through. It appears somewhat weary, but curious and engaged. The effect is also present in Hoffmann's painting of a wild boar piglet. While Hoffmann may not be as great an artist as Albrecht Dürer, or Hans Hofmann for that matter, there is an authenticity and connectedness in his work, and we feel the presence and temperament of his animals in their surroundings.
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