Burgkmair’s Archer in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (1504)

Two weeks ago I wrote about how the Jewish soldier in Hans Burgkmair's 1504 S. Croce in Gerusalemme conveys his own search for self-knowledge. Today we focus on a different figure in the lower left corner, the archer. He is notable because no other figure in the various panels is, with the exception of Christ, as prominent as he is.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Burgkmair, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme from the Basilica Cycle. Oil on panel. Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Staatsgalerie in der Katharinenkirche, Augsburg

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He stands out not only for his size but because the light, catching him full-face, highlights his figure in a dark corner. Equally significant is that he is lit from a different direction than the figures in the boats behind. This makes him the only character in the entire composition whose space looks 3-dimensional. As we have seen so many times elsewhere, the archer represents the artist in front of his "painting". That is why he stands in 3-D space while the rest looks flat like a painting. It also explains the inconsistency of lighting and why his figure is so prominent. He is in a lower corner too where artists tended to situate their self-portrait or, later, a signature.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Burgkmair, Detail of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

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It should be no surprise then that the archer's turban (left) is similar to the cap in Burgkmair's own self-portrait (right) and their features are similar.

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Captions for image(s) above:

L: Burgkmair, Detail of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
R: Burgkmair, Detail of Self-portrait, rotated

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There is, as EPPH has long proposed, a centuries-old artistic tradition associating archery with painting and arrows with brushes. The mental struggle to create a masterpiece is thus often conveyed through a metaphoric fight and the violence of weaponry. If the archer is compared to three random self-portraits of artists at work, his visual similarity to a painter seems clearly intended, most obviously in the bunch of arrows as brushes. [See Michelangelo's later use of the same theme in The Last Judgment]

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Burgkmair, Detail of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
Top R: William Hogarth, Detail of Self-portrait engraving
Bottom L: Judith Leyster, Detail of Self-portrait
Bottom R: Francesco Hayez, Detasil of Self-portrait

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Once seen, a figure like the archer's should be explored for features of further significance. Most telling here is the improbable pose of his legs, one foot turned into face the scene, the other directly outwards. Just as a pair of eyes is differentiated to indicate an artist's two modes of vision, insight and "out-sight", so the feet indicate Burgkmair's blending of two realities, the physical space of the "studio" where the archer stands and the world of the painting behind. The archer-painter, like Mercury, travels back and forth between two worlds but, in his art, fuses them to indicate the ever-present moment of his work's creation. 

Captions for image(s) above:

Burgkmair, Detail of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

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More Works by Burgkmair

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 04 Mar 2015. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.