Israhel van Meckenem, the Namensornament, and the union of artist and work in late gothic engraving
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The late fifteenth-century German goldsmith and engraver Israhel van Meckenem has long been considered an essentially commercial artist who copied the works of his contemporaries for profit. Not only does this stigma rest on specious grounds, but it has diverted scholarship from examining one of early printmaking's most overtly assertive personalities. The first part of this thesis provides a sound basis for future research into van Meckenem's life and art. It distills what is known about the artist through empirical data, archival documents and period commentators, and subjects several long-standing hypotheses to critical inquiry. Part two identifies van Meckenem's Namensornament as the artist's own statement of purpose. Here, the artist proclaimed an indivisible union between himself and his printed impressions by integrating his written name into an ornamental design. In addition, the inclusion of two inscriptions within the image relate van Meckenem to the Hebrew progenitor Jacob, an act that both heralds the unprecedented reproductive potential of printmaking and promotes the artist as an exemplar among his contemporaries.