Two lansquenets watching a pair of lovers
The Royal Collection of Graphic Art
This wonderful drawing is among the earliest signed and dated by Altdorfer. The outline and the hatching used in modelling do not harmonise which seems to be the result of a hasty, improvisational drawing process. In execution it is closely related to the Preparations for a Witches' Sabbath in the Louvre (inv. no. 18. 867; fig. 31a), which is likewise from 1506. As in the Louvre drawing, there are pentimenti in several places, showing that the drawing process was relatively free and that there was room for improvisation in relation to the original sketched composition, of which there are only a few remnants in the shape of delicate pen outlines in a few places. For instance, there are corrections to the outlines of the heads of both halberds, and the large broken branch on the left is an addition to the first faint outline of the tree. The figures were drawn first and then the grass and surroundings were filled in, as can be seen from the fact that the hat decorated with a feather is partly overlaid (on its lower right side) by the penstrokes delineating the grass in the meadow behind. The Louvre drawing has similar pentimenti. It seems to be a little more sensitive in its lines than the Copenhagen sheet, but all the same there seems to be no reason to doubt that the two works are by the same artist. Other features in common are the colour of the ground and the otherwise atypical framing lines, which were made before the drawing was executed. The way in which the composition concentrates on a very shallow foreground separated from a background of buildings and low vegetation is also similar. In addition, it does not really seem possible for the figures on the right and the left to fit into the composition. The strangely unarticulated face of the lansquenet on the right has its closest counterpart in one of the girls in a contemporary drawing by Altdorfer now in Berlin (Kupferstichkabinett, inv. no. KdZ 1691, fig. 31b).
Both Becker and Arndt expressed doubts as to the drawing's authenticity, as they considered it too coarse in execution. In each case, however, they were judging on the basis of photographs or reproductions, and we must probably agree with both Oettinger and Mielke that this is why they dismissed it.
Only in 1988 did Mielke correct the otherwise generally accepted dating of 1508, originally made by Thorlacius-Ussing, to 1506. The uppermost curve in the assumed figure eight is in reality one of the lines indicating a blade of grass.
The subject of the drawing fits in with Altdorfer's early interest in the most often erotic relations between soldiers and women, and in unrestrained and often erotic behaviour in general, as is seen in the abovementioned Louvre drawing. It is thus closely related to the Lovers in a Cornfield of 1508 now in Basel (fig. 31c),2 in which the same tower is seen rising above the couple and behind the meadow as a kind of indication that the action is taking place on the outskirts of town. The raw and undisguised voyeurism is also parallelled by the shamelessness with which the more or less contemporary Lansquenet with a Prostitute (private collection) portrays the purchase of love.3
Altdorfer's interest in these untamed and uncivilized scenes of the "other" to civil town life harmonizes with a general trend i Germany in the years leading up to the Reformation. Especially the eroticising of the iconography is often found in German art of the time, Christian or not. Thus, the moralizing agenda of the larger part of the art of that time is in this cultural environment very ofter expressed in terms of sexual morality as is most pointedly clear in some of Baldung Grien's prints and drawings.
2 Basel, Öffentliche Kunstsammlungen, Kupferstichkabinett, inv. no. U.XVI.31.
3 See Hans Mielke, Albrecht Altdorfer. Zeichnungen, Deckfarbenmalerei, Druckgraphik, Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, 12 February - 17 April 1988 and Regensburg, Museen der Stadt Regensburg, 6 May - 10 July 1988, p. 37, cat. no. 8.
Cabinet Royal d'Estampes a Copenhague. Planches Photographiques de Dessins & De Gravures Rares & Curieuses, 7 Vols., Copenhagen 1862-1868 (ill.); Peter Halm, Review of Franz Winzinger, Albrecht Altdorfer. Zeichnungen, Munich 1952, Kunstchronik (1953), p. 72; Karl Arndt, Review of Karl Oettinger, Datum und Signatur bei Wolf Huber und Albrecht Altdorfer. Zur Beschriftungskritik der Donauschulzeichnungen, Erlangen 1957, Kunstchronik (1958), p. 228; Fedja Anzelewsky, in: Jacqueline & Maurice Guillard, Albrecht Altdorfer et le réalisme fantastique dans l'art Allemand, Paris, Centre culturel du Marais, 3 April - 15 July 1984, pp. 19 (ill.), 69, cat. no. 6; eyes: 53 master drawings from the Departmant of Prints and Drawings, Copenhagen 1993, p.38f. (ill.); Mikael Bøgh Rasmussen, Kalligrafi og kosmografi. Om tysk tegnekunst omkring år 1500, (diss., University of Copenhagen, typescript), Copenhagen 2000, pp. 25ff. (ill.), 62, 104, 214, 216ff., 220, 224, fig.1; Mikael Bøgh Rasmussen, Central European Drawings in the Department of Prints and Drawings, Statens Museum for Kunst. German Drawings before 1540, Copenhagen 2000, pp. 90ff. (ill.), cat. no. 36