MEMBERGER Kaspar the Elder
When Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau (1559–1617), the founder of Baroque Salzburg, took office as prince-archbishop in 1587, the contemporary local art scene was lacking in eminent personalities and high-quality works of art. In order to demonstrate appropriately the splendour of his court, Wolf Dietrich commissioned artists from abroad.
Immediately after Wolf Dietrich had taken office, he commissioned the painter Kaspar Memberger the Elder from Constance to paint a five-part "Noah's Ark Cycle". It is possible that the patron and the painter were previously acquainted, since Wolf Dietrich was also a native of the region around Lake Constance, and that the commission had its origin in this acquaintanceship.
Kaspar was the son of the painter Philipp Memberger the Elder (ca 1510–1573) from Constance. Like his two brothers, he was probably trained by his father. When summoned to Salzburg by Wolf Dietrich in 1587, he created impressive altarpieces, memorial plaques and portraits there. In the archiepiscopal papers and documents, the artist was not mentioned as a Salzburg court painter until 1596. Two years later, Memberger returned to Constance, where he died in 1618, an eminent and respected painter.
Noah's Ark Cycle
With loving attention to faithful detail, Memberger's Noah cycle of five paintings gives a lively rendering of the most important events in the biblical story (Gen 6–9): the building of the ark, the animals entering the ark, the flood, the animals leaving the ark and Noah's sacrifice of thanksgiving. All the paintings are dated and signed and bear the arms of both the Land Salzburg and of Wolf Dietrich. They are similar in their formal composition: against the partial view of a mountain landscape, the protagonists engage in their various activities in the foreground.
The brilliant composition, minute execution and balanced use of colour evidence the artist's Dutch-Italian training. He took over individual elements of the narrative from the depiction of the flood by Jacopo Bassano (between 1510/1518–1592), without, however, copying the work of this eminent representative of late Renaissance painting in Venice. Memberger translated these elements into his own native idiom, differing from Bassano in his depiction of richly dressed people rather than humble beings, and his use of a visual vocabulary appropriate to the lofty tone of the court.
It has frequently been observed that the Salzburg paintings can be considered an allusion to the Raitenau family and the implementation of Wolf Dietrich's private working hypothesis. They were additionally intended for the edification of his less educated subjects, serving as visual illustrations of God's word.
Gabriele Groschner, Thomas Habersatter, Erika Mayr-Oehring (Ed.): Masterworks. Residenzgalerie Salzburg. Salzburg 2002, p. 94, 97