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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Economic Art as Represented in The Merchant Georg Gisze

The Merchant Georg Gisze 1532
The painting entitled The Merchant Georg Gisze, or Der Kaufmann Georg Gisz, depicts a wealthy Steelyard merchant on the North bank of the Thames in London. The Steelyard merchants banned together in order to avoid the power of the princes, pirates, losses in shipping, and other factors that often impact the success of economic gain during this time period. When the artist Hans Holbein finished the work for Georg Gisze in 1532 he was unlikely to be aware that his work would be part of the pantheon of masterpieces.

The Merchants of the Steelyard (der Strahlhof) were first known as the Hanseatic League at their establishment in London Knotor of the year 1320. Eventually they developed their own walled community with a church, warehouse, guards, offices and houses. The league was a defensive pack of guilds, connected to other economic outposts, that protected their trade on the Baltic and North Sea.

At this time in history the world was a very dangerous place as cities could be sacked by enemy ships and armies. What made the Hanseatic League interesting was its Germanic roots as well as its independent loose collection of near democratic associations of over one hundred cities. These cities were independent of local princes and swore allegiance only to the Holy Roman Empire. In this league each city maintained an armed garrison that would come to the aid of other cities when called upon.

The artist Hans Holbein the younger was born in 1497 and passed in 1543. He was considered one of the first artists to work in the Northern Renaissance style. He combined Gothic and humanism styles to create unique masterpieces. He contributed to art, book design and jewelry development. Much of his work was conducted on portraits of important people and he received considerable notoriety for his work. This painting at the steelyard was finished during a time when Hans traveled to England in search of work.

The painting itself is a curiosity in that it was finished for Georg Gisze's potential upcoming marriage. Within the picture there are scales, letters, books and other items commonly used within the period for merchants. It is believed that a few optical and scale issues are apparent within the objects of the work. The vase being too close to the edge of the table represents the instability of the world. The letter in his hand is from a family member further indicating the difficulties of family separation despite the wealth of such a merchant. One can only guess if the mistakes were derived intentionally, from the perspective of the merchant, or the painter.





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