May 3, 2017

Block Printmaker Schäufelein

        Hans Leonhard Schäufelein (Germany, c 1480-1540) studied under Michael Wohlgemut of Nuremberg Chronicle fame, and was an assistant and imitator of Albrecht Dürer.  He did many of the usual images of the Life of Christ so popular at the time, but I’ve included his Ascension here because it strikes me as unusual and unusually fun.  Jesus is floating right up out of the frame of the picture as he ascends so that only his feet are still showing, which really tickles me.  You can see his footprints still on the rock from before take-off.  I don’t know whether Schäufelein came up with this composition himself, or whether it was a common way of depicting the Ascension, but I can’t recall having seen one like it before.
        Today’s second piece is one in my own collection, my parents having bought it back in the early days of their marriage, identified as by Schäufelein but without further information.  My father found it listed in a print collection with the title “Outdoor Feast with a Prince and His Wife,” undated.  When I first tried to research it I found a reproduction titled “Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Height of his Power,” still
undated.  Neither of these was very satisfactory.  So I’m quite pleased that I’ve finally tracked it down and discovered that it is the last panel in an epic 4-panel illustration of Judith and Holofernes.  Judith was a favorite subject of renaissance artists, what with sex, violence, and religion all in one hit.  To summarize, Judith’s city is under siege, so she seduces the enemy general and then chops off his head, thus saving her people.  The beheading scene is the third panel in this spread, so our scene of the couple in the tent might be part of the seduction, or if the picture is to be read chronologically, then it must be the celebrating afterwards.  I still don’t know whether this was simply made to be a free-standing image, or whether it was part of some larger project, although it looks like Schäufelein did make several other 4-panel Biblical scenes around the same time.
        One interesting historical note about the state of wood block printmaking in Schäufelein’s day: he was one of at least six artists who contributed designs for the illustrations of a 1517 chivalric novel in verse by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.  The artists were paid 2 gulden for each 3 designs they contributed, and the formschneider, or carver of the wood blocks, was paid 4 gulden per block.  This obviously reflects a belief at the time that the cutting was harder and/or more skilled work.  Certainly it would have been more time-consuming and physically difficult, but nowadays we tend to value the idea of the creativity put into the design more than the technical skill put into the execution, which is why today’s prints are attributed to Schäufelein and not to the anonymous formschneider.

        Here are plenty of other S printmakers for you to revisit:

[Pictures: The Ascension of Christ, woodcut by Hans Schäufelein, 1507 (Image from The British Museum);
The Siege of Bethulia - Judith and Holofernes, set of 4 woodcuts by Schäufelein, c 1530 (Image of complete set from Albertina).]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter S


If you’re in the greater Boston area, come see my block prints, plus many other artists, at Needham Open Studios this coming weekend!

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