Circa 1450 – 1491

A painter, an engraver and a graphic artist

He was probably born in 1450 to the family of Caspar Schongauer, a goldsmith who moved from Augsburg to Colmar around 1440. He acquired his first skills as an artist in his father’s workshop and later he may have been an apprentice to Colmar painters. It is assumed that having finished his studies, he went to the Netherlands, Burgundy and Spain. From 1471 to 1488 he worked in Colmar. His name is often mentioned in city annals but Martin Schongauer did not become a citizen of Colmar. It was probably the reason of his moving to Breisach in 1488, where he is mentioned already in 1489 as a citizen of the city and its official artist. He died in Breisach in 1491.

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First drawings by Schongauer date from 1469 and show an evident influence of the Dutch artist Rogier van der Weyden. Schongauer was very well acquainted with Dutch art and Vasari considered him to be a disciple of Rogier van der Weyden but there are no proofs of it.

Schongauer was the first German painter to start copperplate engraving. Before him, only goldsmiths worked in this technique. Having in his youth acquired all the secrets of metal engraving necessary for a goldsmith, he successfully used them when working with copperplates and created his own unique style using technical perfection to solve artistic problems.

Few paintings by Schongauer have been preserved. In our days they can be found in Colmar (in St. Martin’s church), in museums of Munich and Vienna. Researchers assume that many of his works perished during the Reformation and the French Revolution (Since 1679, Colmar was a part of France). As for Schongauer’s graphic heritage, according to different sources, it includes from 115 to 117 engravings and around 100 drawings; some of them exist only as copies. Schongauer did not date his plates, and some of the researchers divide his graphic art in three periods: the first (1470–1473), the second (1473–1480) and the third (1480–1488). His works are attributed to one of these periods, but few of them can be dated with more precision.

In his copperplates Schongauer preserved and developed the achievements of his predecessors known as the Master E. S. and the Master of the Playing Cards, assuring a greater plasticity of forms, a more complex composition and structure as well as subtle tone transitions. He was the first engraver who signed all his works with the monogram M+S. His copperplates are dedicated to a variety of topics. Besides traditional religious compositions and ornamental patterns for goldsmiths, applied artists and calligraphers which were widespread in 15th century, Schongauer started depicting genre scenes and animals. His works were famous not only in Germany. According to Vasari, even Michelangelo copied Schongauer.

Albrecht Dürer was well acquainted with Schongauer’s works and admired them. They served to him an example showing how many possibilities can be offered by the copperplate engraving. Dürer was not a disciple of Schongauer but he studied his works very thoroughly. In 1492, when he started his student journey, he did not know that Schongauer was already dead and went directly to Colmar to meet him. He could not meet him anymore, but he could study his copperplates that were still in Colmar.


Circa 1473 – 1480

A sheet from the cycle “Wise and Foolish Virgins”


Circa 1473 – 1480

A sheet from the cycle “Wise and Foolish Virgins”

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