The soldier drawings of Niklaus Manuel
The Swiss Renaissance artist Niklaus Manuel (1484-1530) was a major figure in sixteenth century Switzerland not only artistically, but also politically. The Italian wars of the sixteenth century, caused by a power struggle between the Hapsburg Empire and France, also involved the Swiss, in their capacity as mercenary soldiers. Niklaus Manuel showed an obvious interest in the Swiss mercenary soldier, because that subject became a major part of his graphic visual output. The question raised is whether or not Manuel drew his elaborate renditions of the Swiss mercenary soldier merely as a romantic tribute to the Swiss mercenary's adventurism, or for some other reason. Because it is next to impossible to analyse what an artist of the sixteenth century was thinking, we must turn to an examination of the soldier drawings themselves, the soldier drawings in relation to those by other artists, and most importantly the private and literary writings of Manuel. From the examination of the three areas mentioned above, the complex personality of the artist, poet, and statesman Manuel begins to unfold, revealing a central aspect of that personality which pervades both writings and drawings. That aspect is his patriotic devotion to Switzerland and his idealization of its values and virtues. Eventually we recognize that Manuel forged these feelings into a symbol, which was embodied in the figure of the Swiss mercenary soldier.