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 Adam Elsheimer  (1578 - 1620)

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Lived/Active: Italy/Germany      Known for: small-scale religious paintings, landscape

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

From Germany, Adam Elsheimer was a late 16th, early 17th century painter of religious subjects, which were devotional subjects.  He is described as doing work that is "surprisingly modern" and painting figures with amazing accuracy, intimacy and directness.  He was also acclaimed for skill of handling landscape painting, especially for natural coloration, and for the creation of mood and atmosphere. 

He was raised in a household supported by his father who was a tailor.  He took his early training in drawing from Philipp Uffenbach, a local artist.  Major inspiration to him was the high altar painting of Hans Holbein the Younger in the Frankfurt Cathedral. 

In 1598, Elsheimer traveled from his hometown of Frankfurt to Rome, likely spending time in Venice, and at age 22, arriving in Rome, "a hotbead of creativity."  About 1603, he got his first important commission, The Finding and Exaltation of the True Cross, an altarpiece.

In Rome, most of his paintings, painted on copper, were used in furniture and cabinet panels.  Although contemporaries such as Peter Paul Rubens praised him highly, he made little money from his artwork because he worked very slowly and also, it is thought, because he was so self effacing and seemingly un-confident.  He died poverty stricken, and a very sad Rubens wrote: "For myself, I have never felt my heart more profoundly pierced by grief than at this news."

The last painting of Adam Elsheimer was probably The Flight Into Egypt, and his handling of it was unique as he did a large expanse of dark sky.  The work has the first depiction of the Milky Way, "a vast conglomeration of stars" that was religiously symbolic of the 'path to heaven".  The moon is illuminated and detailed and its light reflects into the lake.  As a result of his method of this depiction, Elshiemer became the first credited painter of the surface of the moon.

John A. Parks, "Adam Elsheimer: Rich and Magical Storytelling", American Artist, May 2007, pp. 36-48

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