Melchior Lorck

Melchior Lorck (circa 1526/27-after 1583) has been called one of the sixteenth century’s most original artists. As far as both his choice of motives and his stylistic approach are concerned, he is generally regarded to be a solitary figure. Until the present time, however, neither Lorck nor his work have been the subject of a monographic treatment that is commensurate with the artist’s international importance.

In August 2009, a monumental five-volume set has appeared: Erik Fischer, with Ernst Jonas Bencard and Mikael Bøgh Rasmussen and a contribution by Marco Iuliano: Melchior Lorck, Vol. 1-5, published by the Royal Library and the Vandkunsten Publishers in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The monograph describes Melchior Lorck’s life and presents the full gamut of his extensive and many-sided artistic output. The books have been authored by the former Keeper of The Department of Prints and Drawings at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, Dr. Erik Fischer, whose research and scholarship is reinforced by the contributions of two art historians, Mikael Bøgh Rasmussen and Ernst Jonas Bencard.

A wandering artist

Melchior Lorck lived an itinerant life, roaming around in perpetual quest of new challenges and new assignments without ever getting pinned down for very long in any one place. He managed to move around and keep on working in locations as diverse as Constantinople and Antwerp, Hamburg and Vienna, and Rome and Copenhagen.

Lorck was in contact with a number of his own day’s leading intellectuals and artists and during his lifetime he attained a certain degree of fame, primarily for the efforts that eventually came to stamp his indelible reputation for posterity: the pictures he made of life in Turkey.

During the years 1555-1559, Melchior Lorck served as a member of the Imperial embassy representing the interests of The Holy Roman Empire at the court of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. This was the very embassy that – under the leadership of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, who was widely renowned for the letters he dispatched from Turkey – enriched life in Europe with plants like horse chestnuts, tulips and lilacs and with manuscripts like the famous Vienna Dioscurides. From Turkey, Lorck brought back to Western Europe a large collection of studies of Turkish, Byzantine and Roman buildings and monuments and, equally amazing, studies of the Turkish people themselves.

Taking his point of departure in the studies he had made on the spot, Lorck brought forth – over the course of the ensuing twenty years – an enormous body of work consisting of drawings and graphic prints that were intended for publication. The works that are most widely known are the 12-meter long Prospect of Constantinople (found today at the University Library in Leiden, the Netherlands) and the set of woodcuts known collectively as The Turkish Publication, which did not actually appear in print until 1626 when it was published under the title “Wolgerissene vnd geschnittene Figuren…” – more than 40 years after what we presume to be the artist’s death. Here, for the very first time, The Turkish Publication is examined in relation to the fragments of a manuscript that Melchior Lorck penned specifically for the publication, although The Turkish Publication never saw the light of day during the artist’s lifetime as things came to pass.

The future standard reference on Melchior Lorck

Both of these main works – The Constantinople Prospect and The Turkish Publication – are now being printed in their originally envisaged dimensions, in a high-quality rendition and replete with exhaustive descriptions. Together with a detailed biographical essay encompassing all of Lorck’s mercurial career and a complete exhibition of all the known documents – a great many of which have never been published before – about the artist (with the original text unfurled to its full extent, followed by paraphrases and commentaries), what is being offered here is the most thorough and wide-ranging monographic treatment of this fascinating artist that has ever appeared until now.

In this first round, the first four volumes of the set are being printed. A catalogue raisonné covering the second half of Lorck’s known oeuvre, including the works and projects he created for the Danish king and for the cities of Hamburg and Vienna as well as his sketches for a projected book examining costumes from all over the world is presently being prepared and will be published eventually as volume 5 of the set.

The set of books, which is built upon a lifetime of research and scholarship carried out by the world’s leading Lorck expert, Dr. Erik Fischer, promises to be an indispensable possession for every museum, library, collection and scholar that might be interested in Renaissance art history, in sixteenth century graphics, in the relationship between Turkey and Europe or in the history of the Ottoman Empire.

The set of books is splendidly supplied with illustrations of all of Melchior Lorck’s known works. Design by award-winning Danish typographers Mette and Eric Mourier. More than 1.200 pages. Bound in cloth; large format alowing reproduction of Melchior Lorck’s woodcuts from Turkey in 1:1; many fold-outs, including a 7.5 meter long color reproduction of the artist’s Prospect of Constantinople, now in the University Library of Leyden.

Published by The Royal Library and Forlaget Vandkunsten with financial support from The Velux Foundation and The Ludvig & Sara Elsass Foundation.

Copyright © 2009 by Forlaget Vandkunsten


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