The novel is stylized as an old Germanic story. The beginning of the narrative is about 1521. Franz Sternbald, an artist, a young student of Albrecht Dürer, a renowned German painter, leaves Nuremberg and travels on a long journey to reach Italy and learn from Italian artists. Franz accompanies his friend Sebastian, like himself, a disciple of Durer. Then, after a touching farewell, Sebastian returns back to Nuremberg, to the workshop of his teacher.
On the way, Franz accidentally gets acquainted with the blacksmith’s apprentice. He, having learned that Franz is a painter, shows great interest in his art and promises that he will go to Durer and Sebastian in Nuremberg and observe the process of their creativity.
In the next city, Franz sends a letter from Durer to the manager of one large factory, Mr. Zeiner. He invites him to dinner. In the evening, Sternbald is led to the hall, where a brilliant meeting does not pay the slightest attention to him and leads frivolous, mundane conversations. After supper, Zeiner persuades Franz to take the place of a warden with a good salary in his factory and tempts him to provide himself with a comfortable life in the near future. Franz does not lend a temptation and remains faithful to his dream. He rejects his proposal and continues his journey.
A young man makes a detour to visit a village on the banks of the Tauber, where his parents live. He finds his father at death. From him, Franz learns that he is his
He goes to the Netherlands to see the famous artist Luka Leidensky. He is still quite a young man and an entertaining companion. Franz tells him about his shyness in painting and about too much impressionability. Luke instructs him on the true path and advises not to travel to Italy, but to confine himself only to the German school of painting and to depict the northern nature in the manner customary for the Germans, for the Latin roots of Italian art are allegedly inconsistent with the internal world of the Germans. However, soon Luka Leydensky himself visits Durer. He still finds his disciple at Luke, and he manages to re-instill in him the shaken confidence in the correctness of his chosen path.
From Leiden, Franz goes to Antwerp along with several fellow travelers. Among them, most of all, Franz likes Rudolf Florestan, a poet, a singer, an Italian, traveling to his homeland from England. The young people decide to continue their journey together. Before Antwerp, Rudolph leaves Franz for a short time to visit a friend who lives near the city. Franz also settles in an inn and often visits another fellow traveler, merchant Vansen, who, having learned that Sternbald is an artist, has imbued him with boundless respect. At the request of Vansen, Franz paints a portrait of his daughter, a very sad girl. She begins to trust him and reports the reason for her sorrow. It turns out that she has a lover, but he is poor, and the father, she believes, would never consent to extradite her for him. Vansen swore to himself, that he will give his daughter in marriage only for the artist, and offers Franz, even though he is poor, to become his son-in-law. Franz meets his daughter’s bridegroom and finds out in his friend a blacksmith. He, having visited Durer’s studio, fell in love with painting, completely abandoned the blacksmith’s craft, and now dies of longing for his beloved and from what does not know which way he should choose: painting or blacksmithing. Franz urges him to turn to art and talk with Vansen. He manages to happily arrange the fate of Vansen’s daughter, and, along with Rudolph Florestan, who has already joined him, he goes further. completely abandoned the blacksmith’s craft, and now dies of longing for his beloved and from what does not know which way he should choose: painting or blacksmithing. Franz urges him to turn to art and talk with Vansen. He manages to happily arrange the fate of Vansen’s daughter, and, along with Rudolph Florestan, who has already joined him, he goes further. completely abandoned the blacksmith’s craft, and now dies of longing for his beloved and from what does not know which way he should choose: painting or blacksmithing. Franz urges him to turn to art and talk with Vansen. He manages to happily arrange the fate of Vansen’s daughter, and, along with Rudolph Florestan, who has already joined him, he goes further.
On the way, friends meet with Boltz, a sculptor returning from Italy to Germany, and the accompanying monk. The former pushes friends off with sharp judgments about German art and the exaltation of Italian painters, while the latter captivates with its softness and warmth. Franz and Rudolph say goodbye to the travelers and go on. They get acquainted with the fine hunter and visit her in the castle. The young countess shows Franz the portrait of her lover, who escaped from her before the wedding. In the portrait Franz recognizes the monk he met not long before.
After a while, Sternbald visits a nearby hermit. He is also a painter. Among his works, Franz accidentally finds a portrait of his stranger. He brings him to the castle and, talking about the hermit, shows the countess. The countess assures that it depicts her sister, who died less than a year ago. Franz is inconsolable. As if the soil was running out from under his feet. However, he soon gets acquainted with a pretty girl with whom he has a novel, a stormy and sensual one. It’s hard for him to part with her, but he still leaves the castle to continue his journey.
Soon, Franz and Rudolph see in the forest a wounded knight and trying to help him pilgrim. All together, they spend the night in a hut with a hermit who retired from the bustling world because of unhappy love, A healing herbal broth helps a wounded knight in which Franz and Rudolph recognize the monk, the Countess’s beloved met recently, recover. Roderigo, this is the name of the knight, tells the young people about his friend Ludovic, a cheerful and reckless man with whom he has not seen for more than a year, and also about his beloved countess, from which he escaped, but on which he yearns very much. His surprise is great when, after a while, he sees his beloved Ludovik enter the hut to the hermit. His violent temperament and love of danger captivate Rudolph, who has not moved away from him ever since,
Young people all together leave the hermit’s hut and after a long and tedious transition they enter the garden adjoining the castle. The castle, as it later turns out, belongs to the relative of the countess. Here, Roderigo accidentally meets with his lover and reconciles with her.
The further way Franz holds one. In the next city, he paints a picture in the monastery and helps Ludovico, who arrived there, to kidnap his bride, whom her relatives are forced to take a haircut with a nun.
In Florence Sternbald gets acquainted with many Italian artists, he leads an idle and frivolous way of life, which, however, does not suit him very much. Then he goes to Rome, where in one of the houses, where the countess recommended him to come, meets his beloved stranger. It turns out that her name is Maria and she also likes Sternbald for a long time. The girl’s mother accepts Franz extremely favorably.
In the third part, which Tik did not write, he intended to tell us that in Florence, in a rich country house, Franz meets his father, Ludovik is his brother. Wanderings Sternbald, he planned to safely complete in Nuremberg on the grave by the time of the deceased Albrecht Durer.