Lot 12
  • 12

SOUTH GERMAN SCHOOL, PROBABLY ULM, EARLY 16TH CENTURY | Portrait of the architect Moritz Ensinger (c. 1430–1482/3)

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
250,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Portrait of the architect Moritz Ensinger (c. 1430–1482/3)
  • bears date: 1482 and charged with the sitter's coat of arms
  • oil on limewood[?] panel


Probably Heinrich Hermann Eusebius Graf von Kageneck (17381790), Schloss Munzingen, near Freiburg; Heinrich Graf von Kageneck (17741829), Schloss Munzingen, near Freiburg, by 1794 (as by Lucas Cranach);

Thence by descent to Heinrich Graf von Kageneck (18351887), Schloss Munzingen, near Freiburg;

Probably his son Heinrich Graf von Kageneck (18701937), Schloss Munzingen, near Freiburg;

With Galerie Steinmeyer, Cologne, 1906;

Berlin art market, 1907;

Dr Hans Conrad Ferdinand Bodmer (18911956), Zürich, who acquired the work circa 191618 (as by Michael Wolgemut);

Thence by inheritance to his daughter Charlotte Schürch Bodmer;

By inheritance to her son Hans Cäsar Schürch, the husband of the present owner


Verzeichnis von Gemälden der berühmtesten niederländischen, französischen und deutschen Meister welche aus der gräflich heinrich von Kageneckischen Verlassenschaft in Freyburg gegen bare bezahlung zu verlaufen sind, Freiburg 1794, p. 22, no. 194: '- ein Portrait eines Mathematikers mit dem Zirkel in der Hand von Lucas Kranac'; Probably H. Thode, Die Malerschule von Nurnberg im XIV. und XV. Jahrhundert, Frankfurt-am-Main 1891, p. 208 (as dated 1483);

F. Dörnhoffer, 'Beitrage zur Geschichte der älteren Nürnberger Malerei', in Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft, 29, 1906, p. 465;

J. Baum, 'Über zwei sogennante Ensinger Bildnisse', in Württembergische Vierteljarhshefte für Landesgeschichte, 16, 1907, pp. 369–76, reproduced (as of better quality than the Mainz version);

E. Buchner, Das Deutsche Bildnis der Spätgotik und der frühen Dürerzeit, 1953, pp. 75–76, figs 17 and 69;

A. Stange, Kritisches Verzeichnis der deutschen Tafelbilder vor Dürer, Munich 1970, vol. II, p. 129, no. 590 (as a copy);

I. Severin, Baumeister und Architekten, Berlin 1992, pp. 39, 187, under cat. no. 99 (as a copy);

S. Kern, Deutsche Malerei des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts im Landesmuseum Mainz. Ausgewählte Werke, Mainz 1999, pp. 175–77, under no. 18a.

Catalogue Note

This is a rare and unusually accomplished example of the type of architect portraits that seems to have enjoyed a certain vogue in Germany in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries and which reflected the fame of the builders of the great Gothic cathedrals. It depicts the celebrated Swabian architect and stonemason Moritz Ensinger (c. 1430–1482/3), who worked as the Dombaumeister (Cathedral Master Builder) on the great Minster at Ulm between 1465 and 1471. The portrait type is based upon an anonymous original of 1482 (the probable year of Ensinger’s death) in the Landesmuseum in Mainz. The particularly fine quality and rounded naturalism of this portrait suggest that its author had been in contact with recent developments in Netherlandish painting, and that it was most probably painted in response to a posthumous commission made after the architect’s death. Moritz Ensinger was born in Berne in Switzerland around 1430, the third son of Matthäus Ensinger, himself the Dombaumeister in the free imperial city of Ulm. In 1465 he succeeded his father in Ulm, firstly on a ten-year contract, and then after 1470 for life as Master Builder in his turn. In the Minster he was responsible for the arched vault of the central nave and the continued construction of the main tower. His best-known surviving work at Ulm is probably the Sacrament House, which he designed and which was constructed between 1462 and 1471. At twenty-six metres in height and carved entirely in limestone and sandstone it is the highest Sacrament House in Germany. Here he worked with the sculptors Hans Multscher (1400–1467) and Jörg Syrlin (1425–1491), who carved figures for the Sacrament House and elsewhere. In 1469 his sister married the woodcarver Michael Erhart, who had also worked on the choir stalls in the Minster between 1470 and 1474. Ensinger worked in Ulm until 1477, when he seems to have completed his work and retired to Lake Constanz where he bought a house the following year. He later moved to Lenzburg in Aarau, where he died in late 1482 or early 1483.

The author of this remarkable portrait was undoubtedly aware of the other likeness of Ensinger, painted in 1482, and now in Mainz (fig. 1), for it must have served as his model.1 Both portraits are set at bust-length, with the architect’s black tunic and cap set against a brilliant red background, upon which his coat of arms of two architects’ compasses is shown. The present painting differs in that is shows Ensinger holding his compass in his right hand, which suggest that the Mainz version may well have been cut down along its bottom edge. With the exception of Baum, who thought this to be much the better of the two pictures, most scholars have considered the present painting to be a copy or replica of the Mainz portrait. However, it is clear that, as Baum observed, the author of the present painting, although indebted to the Mainz example, does not slavishly follow it, but imparts a far greater degree of realism to the architect’s features as well as an entirely different sense of three-dimensionality to his appearance. The portrayal of Ensinger thus seems much more sympathetic and convincing than in the Mainz panel, and this more confident and life-like style, far removed from the flatter and more linear types of most German fifteenth-century portraiture, suggests that the painter may well have seen or been in contact with Netherlandish portraits of this period, such as those painted by Hans Memling (1430–1494). For these reasons it seems likely that the present work was painted at a slightly later date, probably after 1500. It is most probable that both its author and his patron were based in Ulm, where Ensinger’s fame was greatest, and was no doubt commissioned after his death. This portrait is also a particularly good example of an ongoing demand for a type of early portraits of architects for which there seems to have been a strong demand in Germany in the second half of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. Good examples, for example, are the Portrait of Jörg von Halsbach, the Baumeister at the Frauenkirche in Munich, painted by an unknown Bavarian painter around 1465–70 and today in the Art Museum in Basel,1 and the Portrait of an architect attributed to the Master of the Marienlebens of around 1480 at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.2 Although the present painting was associated with Lucas Cranach the Elder back in the eighteenth century, and much later with Dürer’s teacher Michael Wolgemut (1434–1519), no firm attribution for either this or the Mainz portrait has ever been successfully advanced. As Alfred Stange was first to observe, the handling of the features of Ensinger in Mainz show certain similarities with a double Portrait of a man and his wife of 1479, today in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich (fig. 2), which has in the past been associated with the work of the Ulm painter Hans Schüchlin (1440–1505).3

1 Severin 1992, no. 97, reproduced p. 37.
2 M. Schawe, Alte Pinakothek: Altdeutsche und altniederländische Malerei, Munich 2006, p. 214, reproduced.
3 A. Stange, Deutsche Malerei der Gotik, Liechtenstein 1969, vol. 8, Schwaben in der Zeit von 1450 bis 1500, p. 16, figs 24 and 25 (Mainz and Munich portraits). The attribution has not found support among modern scholars.