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Summary Article: Nötke Bernt (c. 1440 - 1509)
from A Biographical Dictionary of Artists, Andromeda

Bernt Nötke was a German sculptor and painter. Born in Lassan in Pomerania (Poland), he was the greatest sculptor of his day in the Baltic area. For much of his life he lived in Lübeck, where the majority of his works may now be seen in the St Annen-Museum. In 1467 it is recorded that he was exempted from the Guild regulations, indicating the elevated status he enjoyed over contemporary German artists. In 1477 he carved a magnificent cross in polychromed wood for Lübeck Cathedral.

Nötke did not work only in Germany. He was one of several Lübeck artists of the period who went to Scandinavia, where some of his greatest works survive. For Aarhus Cathedral, Denmark, he produced the altar triptych between 1478 and 1482. The precise authorship of the several parts of the work is not certain, but it seems likely that Nötke was responsible for the paintings and his assistants for the sculpture. In 1483 he painted the triptych for the high altar at Reval Cathedral, Sweden; and then in 1484 he traveled to Stockholm, where he remained for the greater part of the next 13 years. During that time he carved in wood his best-known work, the great 10 ft (4 m) high polychrome statue of St George and the Dragon, for the church of St Nicholas in Stockholm. It was an important work, commissioned by the Swedish Chancellor to commemorate victory over the Danes on St George's day, 1471.

Stylistically, a number of other works in Scandinavia have been attributed to Nötke and his pupil Henning von der Heide, among them the St John the Evangelist in Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark. However, he had returned to Lübeck by c. 1500. He then produced his great panel painting, the only one firmly attributed to him, of The Mass of St Gregory, for the Marienkirche (it was destroyed in 1942). About 1508 he began his last known work, the incised bronze tomb slab in memory of Herman Hutterock, also in the Marienkirche.

At a time when other artists had lapsed into depicting the detailed trivialities so characteristic of the High Gothic style, Nötke never lost sight of the underlying spiritual content in the subject matter of his works. They also display an easy elegance and a fastidious eye for realism, not least in his use of materials. These qualities are most striking in the St George and the Dragon. The tableau has an overall bristling Gothic appearance, but through it emerges the divinity of St George and the demonism of the dragon. In his quest for realism, Nötke gave the saint's horse real horsehair, while the dragon boasts elk horns. The Mass of St Gregory is equally skilled. The picture displays an awareness of the ritualistic meaning of the scene, which is witnessed by several realistically portrayed faces. Behind them a rugged landscape appears through the window. Nötke's colors, though strong, were nevertheless applied with restraint.

A Biographical Dictionary of Artists, © Andromeda 1995

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Full text Article Notke, Bernt (1440 - 1509)
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