HANS SEBALD BEHAM
1500 Nuremberg – Frankfurt/Main 1550
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Vera Icon - The Holy Face ca. 1520
woodcut; 430 mm x 324mm (17 x 12 3/4 inches); sheet 510 x 340 mm (20 x 13 3/8 inches)
Bartsch, vol. 7, appendix to Dürer, p. 182, no. 26; Geisberg 772; Pauli and Hollstein (Beham) 829 IIa; Schoch/Mende/Scherbaum A18
crowned coat of arms of Augsburg with pendant letter A
Antiquariat Weidhas, Berlin, in 1844 (according to a pencil inscription on the verso)
Guy van Hoorebeke, Brussels
All through the nineteenth century, this fairly monumental woodcut was believed to be made by Albrecht Dürer. One of the reasons is the fact that those surviving impressions that had not been trimmed to the borderline show the Nuremberg master’s large monogram beneath the image. While this might have been the addition of a later publisher (it was not unusual for print publishers in the second half of the sixteenth century to take advantage of the high recognition value the “AD” monogram afforded), its prominence here is unique.
It is intriguing to notice that the bearded face is related to Dürer’s imagery in more than one way. It very closely follows the type of the vera icon formulated and repeatedly used by the artist (that is the imprint Christ’s face left on the cloth that Veronica handed him on the way to Calvary to help him dry off sweat and blood). It first appears in an engraving of 1513 showing The Sudarium Held by Two Angels, to be followed by a drawing in the margins of the Prayer Book of Emperor Maximilian of 1515, and finally even the image on the floating veil held by a single angel in Dürer’s etching of 1516 repeats the same bearded face.
However, the juxtaposition of the uber-prominent monogram with the image of a man wearing a well-coiffed beard and long hair framing his face in long curls face is also reminiscent of Dürer’s famous Christomorphic Self-Portrait painting of 1500 – only that the depicted face has by now aged by two decades. That such an identification of Christ with a portrait of the artist is not merely the projection of us modern viewers is supported by the tiny reflections of the window that can be noticed in both eyes (in the Munich painting as well as in the woodcut). The closely observed realism of this detail removes the image from the motif’s ancient religious origin and situates it in the here-and-now of its creation – the artist observing himself in the enclosure of his own studio with light falling through the window whose mullion and transom can be made out in the pupils of his eyes.
The print is now generally accepted as by Dürer’s pupil Hans Sebald Beham. However, there is hardly anything in Beham’s woodcut oeuvre that shows a comparable sophistication of line-work and finesse in the cutting of the block. Closest perhaps are his two large wallpaper designs with fauns—sometimes attributed to Dürer himself. The unusual size and proportion of The Holy Face would need to be compared not to Dürer’s more readily known woodcuts but to other monumental designs such as The Large Column (of which only very few impressions survive). Its fluid linework appears closer to that employed here than to any of Beham’s other, more pedestrian large-sized woodcuts. Dürer’s own authorship should therefore not be too readily dismissed.
Coat of Arms with a Cock 1543
engraving; 72 x 51 mm
Bartsch 256; Pauli and Hollstein 267 second (final) state
Dr. Erich von Rath, Bonn (Lugt 2721)
Albert W. Blum, Short Hills, NJ (Lugt 79b);
his sale Sotheby's, New York, February 27, 1988, lot 1191
A fine and rich impression in very good condition.