Few towns in Europe have preserved so much of the spirit of the Middle
Ages as Nuremberg. Its history is pregnant with romance, and its annals
of mediæval art are of marked interest. Amsterdam recalls Rembrandt;
Antwerp calls to mind Rubens, and with the town of Nuremberg, the
student of painting associates its illustrious native, Albert Durer.
The craftsmen of this town were among the most skilful of any European
nation during mediæval times. Goldworkers, armourers, clock-makers, and
artists in stained glass worked here in the days of the trade guilds.
Brass was founded in this city at an early date. Nuremberg was famed,
too, for its metalworkers and goldsmiths. It is still a town of
The architecture of the churches is of the highest Gothic order; the
façade of the Rathaus is a noble specimen of late Renaissance work; and
the castle and fortifications are feudal structures of much historical
interest. There are few towns that can compare with Nuremberg in the
charm and variety of its memorials of the past.
We cannot be certain concerning the date of the founding of the town,
but probably it was in existence in the tenth century. In the reign of
Henry II., Nuremberg was already a place of some importance, and its
prosperity advanced until it became one of the chief markets of Europe.
The castle was the residence of many rulers of the country, and it was
one of the favourite palaces of Henry IV.
In the thirteenth century, Nuremberg had a large number of Jews among
its population, who enjoyed all the rights of citizens. But under Karl
IV. a policy of oppression was adopted, and at a later period, the
Jewish inhabitants were bitterly persecuted.
John Huss was received here by an enthusiastic populace; but when the
reformer’s army laid waste the country, the people of Nuremberg
valiantly withstood the enemy. When the wave of the Reformation swept
the land, Nuremberg gave a welcome to Martin Luther, and his revised
ritual of worship was used in the churches. Melanchthon also came to the
town, and established a school there, though the institution was not
successful. A statue of the “gentle” reformer was set up in Nuremberg.
Civil strife disturbed the town in 1552, but a period of peace followed,
and a few years later saw the founding of the university.
The Thirty Years’ War brought disaster upon Nuremberg. The army of
Wallenstein attacked the ancient walls, and the outer entrenchments
which had been constructed by the inhabitants upon the rumour of war.
Led by Gustavus, the soldiers and people of the town opposed the vast
forces of Wallenstein that encompassed the fortifications in a series of
Hunger and plague assailed the besieged within the gates, while without
the foe cut off escape, and barred the entrance of food supplies. For
weeks the siege endured. Thousands died from disease, thousands were
slain by the enemy. In a valiant sally, Gustavus led his troops to the
attack. The battle raged for hours, and both sides suffered terrible
losses. Nuremberg might have fallen had Wallenstein been able to rally
his hungry soldiers, but, as it was, he withdrew his force.
Let us now review the peaceful arts of the city. The record of Albert
Durer’s life shows the character of a deeply religious man, devoted to
his faith, and absorbed by his art. He was reared in Nuremberg, and was
the son of a working goldsmith. Born in 1471, Durer was apprenticed at
an early age to his father’s craft, in which, however, he did not excel,
for his heart was set upon following the profession of a painter. His
first master in the art was Wolgemut, whose portrait is one of Durer’s
finest works. The young artist spent some time in Italy, studying, among
other paintings, the work of Mantegna, and, on returning to his native
town, he applied himself most industriously to his art.
Albert Durer’s pictures are scattered among the galleries of the world.
Durer, in painting landscape, showed a singular modern feeling. In his
portraits he was a realist, analytical in the use of his brush, and
especially painstaking in painting fine hair, for which he used ordinary
brushes with extreme dexterity, much to the amazement of Bellini.
In the Germanic Museum at Nuremberg there are five pictures by the
master, and some copies of his works. The bulk of his paintings are in
other galleries at Munich, Berlin, London, and elsewhere.
An interesting memorial of Albert Durer is the old gabled house in which
he lived and worked. Here he toiled with the brush and the graver’s
tools, and received as his guests the cultured men of the city. His life
was simple and industrious, and his nature gentle and retiring. Durer
had several pupils at Nuremberg, who carried on his tradition in
painting and copper and wood engraving.
The art treasures of the churches are very numerous. St Sebald’s Church
is a splendid Gothic pile, with many architectural triumphs, such as the
highly decorated bride’s door, with its finely carved effigies, the high
pillars, Krafft’s statuary and reliefs, and the crucifix by Stoss.
The splendid western door of the Frauenkirche must be seen by the
visitor, for it is an instructive example of Gothic work of the richest
design. St Lawrence has two figures, Adam and Eve, on its chief doorway;
and some Scriptural reliefs adorn the entrance. The windows are
There is a notable picture of “Christ and Mary” in the Imhoff Gallery.
There are several other churches in Nuremberg containing works of art,
and offering study for the lover of architecture and painting. The work
of the craftsmen of the Middle Ages is seen everywhere in these
buildings, and a detailed description would fill a volume.
The Museum is in an ancient monastery, and in its numerous rooms will be
found Roman antiquities, old metal work, pottery, furniture of the
Middle Ages, weapons, a collection of books, some of them illustrated by
Durer, and an array of paintings of the German school. A full and
excellent catalogue is issued.
The castle, with its stirring chronicle, is a feudal fortress dominating
the plain, and forming the chief rampart of the town’s defences. Walls
and towers protect Nuremberg on every side, as in the ancient days of
peril. The view from the towers is very remarkable, and from one of
these points of outlook, one gains a long-remembered impression of the
old town, with its towers and steeples, and the surrounding country,
watered by the Pegnitz and clothed with forests. The fortifications were
finished in the fifteenth century, and provided a strong protection to
the town in time of siege.
Among the buildings of this “quaint old town of art and song,” as
Longfellow describes it, the Rathaus must be visited. The west façade is
very handsome Renaissance work by the Brothers Wolf, with three towers,
and three ornate entrances. The fresco paintings within are the work of
Durer and his pupils, but they are in poor preservation. There is a
beautiful ceiling, by Beheim, in the council chamber. A fountain, with a
statue of Apollo, by Peter Vischer, is in one of the courtyards. The god
is splendidly modelled, and graceful, and the pedestal of the statue has
several mythological figures.
The most pleasing quarters of the town for the lover of antiquity are
below the Fleischbrücke, where the ancient houses overhanging the stream
are exceedingly quaint, the narrow alleys surrounding the Rathaus, and
the castle and its environs. The fountain in the fruit market, Albert
Durer’s house, the churches, and the Imhoff house should all be
inspected if you wish to gain a comprehensive recollection of old and
Nuremberg was celebrated for its sculpture, an art that awakened here
and in Würzburg at the Renaissance. While Donatello was living, Stoss,
Krafft and Vischer were gaining repute as image-makers in stone, wood,
and bronze. A volume has been published lately in France, “Peter Vischer
et la Sculpture Franconienne,” by Louis Réan, which tells the story of
the rise of the Nuremberg craftsmen. Adam Krafft was no doubt an
influence in the work of Albert Durer. The South Kensington Museum
contains several examples of the work of these German artists.
We must not quit Nuremberg without recalling the great poet, Wolfram,
who was born at Eschenbach, a village near the city. It was to Wolfram
that Wagner owed the subjects for his two great works, “Parsifal” and
Nuremberg stands high, on the verge of an ancient forest, long famous
for its hunting. Its river is the Pegnitz, which flows through the town
about its centre, and is crossed by several fine bridges. Besides its
rambling lanes and main thoroughfares, there are several open spaces and
squares; but the houses retain, for the greater part, their mediæval air
and irregularity of structure, with carved balconies, gables, and
turrets. It is the second important town of Bavaria in point of
- The Project Gutenberg EBook of Old Continental Towns, by Walter M. Gallichan