Albrecht Durer and Johann Mommard: Deception or Flattery?

If in fact, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; history does take a very flattering view of an artisan by the name of Johann Mommard. His imitations of Albrecht Durer’s woodcuts from the Small Passion have left history to record these thirty-six copies as nothing more than deception at best.

Very little is recorded in history about the life and work of the Dutch artist. He apparently worked and lived in Brussels.

Aside from this short biography, it is his deceptively precise copies that history remembers and the word flattery is not raised. Therefore, the question needs to be asked if this was Mommard’s intention: to deceive the art world then and now. Since he left Albrecht Durer’s monogram intact, we have to assume that his intention was less than admirable also.

This was not the first time that Albrecht Durer woodcuts have been copied by an artist. The Italian engraver, Marcantonio Raimondi made engraved copies of his woodcuts and by decree from the Venetian Senate, was forced to removed Durer’s AD monogram, even though Durer would receive no financial restitution since the images belonged to all Christianity.

Virgil Solis, a sixteenth century German printmaker, also made copies of Albrecht Durer’s woodcuts but replaced the monogram of Durer with his own VS.

Joseph Meder in the introduction to his catalogue raisonne, Durer-Katalog ein Handbuch Uber Albrecht Durers Stiche, Radierungen, Holzschnitte, Deren Zustande, Ausgaben Und Wasserzeichen, wrote, “No less important to me are the copies of Mommard published after the woodcuts of the Small Passion, with so many individual leaves scattered in collections…with or without intention.

Regardless of Johann Mommard’s intention, the consequences of having these copies distributed commercially as original woodcuts by Albrecht Durer propelled Joseph Meder to devote a great deal of attention in his catalogue raisonne to not only describe the differences between both original and copy, but comparative illustrations as well.

The first edition of Johann Mommard’s copies of the thirty-six Small Passion woodcuts of Albrecht Durer appeared in 1587 (almost 59 years after Durer’s death) and a second edition appeared in 1644 (116 years after Durer’s death).

Again, in Joseph Meder’s own words, “For every collector and every collection there is a danger of confusing the original woodcuts of the Small Passion with the deceptive copies, so even the copies by Johann Mommard have crept into common use.”

Regardless of the intention of Johann Mommard, these after-pieces of Albrecht Durer’s Small Passion woodcuts are the work of a true artisan. However, there is no doubt that this deception borders on plagiarism and any form of flattery is lost because of Johann Mommard’s undefined intention.