Battle between Peasants and Naked Men

Here, the issue at stake is to promote the artist himself. How so?

Self-promotion cannot at first glance be discerned in this motif, which shows a battle between (almost) naked men and peasants in a forest, a typically German Danube School forest with “hanging” fir trees. However, at the bottom, to the far right, is a sign bearing the letters “N H” in reverse. The two naked men on either side of the sign point down to it, one with his finger (the man on the left), and one with a stick (the man on the right). They are also pointing to another sign below the picture itself (i.e. outside the picture plane); a sign which only appears in some prints — and, unfortunately, not on the copy at the Royal Collection of Graphic Art, which has had its edges cropped right up to the edge of the picture itself.

The sign bears this legend: “HANNS/ LEUCZELLBURGER / FURMSCHNIDER/ 1522” (Hans Lützelburger, block-cutter, 1522). This sign, and a corresponding sign to the right showing an alphabet consisting of Roman capitals, have been printed onto the leaf using two small, separate blocks. The three signs announce that master NH designed the picture, that Lützelburger cut the block, and that Lützelburger could also carve excellent type as indicated by the alphabet. The two pointing men have been interpreted as portraits of master NH and Lützelburger, the designer and the block-cutter, shown here as they point out their prowess: they were able to invent such an unprecedented motif, and also to carve it with such eminent skill.

As far as the first of these achievements are concerned, i.e. the unusual and strange motif, it has been read as a kind of artistic declaration of independence in relation to Italian art, which held a leading position at the time and governed the norms of art. Here, however, we find a German version of that quintessentially Italian motif, battles of Antiquity, in which sophisticated renditions of the human body took centre stage. In this case the German qualities of the scene are accentuated: German peasants and German “people of the woods” strike complex poses in a German forest. Here, master NH offers up a German canon to compete with the Italian.

Regarding the quality of the cutting, we can only concede that Lützelburger truly had something special to offer and it is quite on a par with, for example, Dürer's Trinity.

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Updated: 26.apr.2018
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