Close XYL-9 Calvary

[Netherlands or Lower Rhine, c.1480]. Metalcut (dotted print), with Latin inscriptions.

 Schr. 2339 state II. The crucifixion of Christ, flanked by that of the two thieves, with the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalen, John the Evangelist, Centurio, Longinus, and other figures. Christ, with halo and the crown of thorns, the cloth round his loins floating out to either side, is portrayed hanging on the cross, held in position by three nails and dominating the upper third of the picture. His blood flows from the five wounds. At the head of the cross part of an ‘INRI’ inscription in reverse is visible: ‘n o i’. To the left the crucifixion of the good thief, facing the onlooker, tied by ropes to a T-cross constructed from roughly hewn tree stems; his soul is being drawn into heaven by an angel, a small winged figure emerging from a cloud. To the right the bad thief, his back to the onlooker and roped to a similarly constructed cross, whose soul has fallen prey to a devil, portrayed with a round mask-like face, long ears, and horns, emerging from a cloud. The lower part of the elongated stem of the cross is embraced from the left by Mary Magdalen, the central foreground figure. To her left John the Evangelist supports the swooning figure of the Virgin Mary, assisted by a third female figure, also with a halo. To the right of the cross Centurio and a soldier, in splendid and exotic costumes, stand in conversation. Behind the two groups in the foreground there are two further figures standing with their backs to the onlooker, to the left of the cross a woman with a halo, and to the right Longinus, who holds his lance upright, both looking out towards the city of Jerusalem, which can be seen in the background. In the Bodleian copy the picture is framed by a metalcut border of clouds and stars, set out in white against an intense black ground, with the evangelists’ symbols in the four corners, accompanied by inscribed banderoles bearing their Latin names in reverse, the letters printed from right to left: ‘se(n)nahoi’, ‘suehta[m]’, ‘sacul’, and ‘sucram’. Whereas ‘INRI’ and the inscriptions indicating the names of the evangelists are in reverse, the picture itself makes correct use of symbolic left and right. One of four recorded copies, the others in Gdańsk PAN, Munich GraphSlg, and Washington NatGal. This is the only copy with the border (described by Schreiber as state II). In his Manuel Schreiber localizes this metalcut on the Lower Rhine (Cologne) and dates it c.1475. In his later publications, however, he attributes it to the Master of Jesus in Bethany, whose workshop he locates in the Netherlands in the period 1465–85 (Handbuch, VII 79–80). Schramm XIV 3 mistakenly attributes the metalcut to the Mainz printers Schöffer and Fust (the printers of the Canon Missae, which is the host volume of the Oxford copy; see below).

ills. Schmidt, Denkmale, no. 81 (Munich copy); Schreiber, Meisterwerke, II pl. 107 (Bodleian copy); Schramm XIV, 3 and pl. 1 ill. 1 (Bodleian copy); Field, Washington, ill. 341 (Washington copy); Bodleian Filmstrip Roll 245, no. 18.

refs. Schreiber, Manuel, III 53–4 (incorrectly listed as no. 2338 II); W. L. Schreiber, in Heitz, Kanonbilder, 8; Schreiber, Meister der Metallschneidekunst, 52–3; Schreiber, Handbuch, V 63; Field, Washington, no. 341; The Origins of European Printmaking: Fifteenth-century Woodcuts and their Public, ed. P. Parshall and R. Schoch, Exhibition catalogue, Washington NatGal and Nuremberg GermNM (in press, 2005).

copy Chancery sheet. 329 × 252 mm (328 × 251 mm), central image 238 × 179 mm. Chain-lines horizontal. The watermark, visible on the lower portion of the Magdalen’s robe, is a small heart, surmounted by a cross; in the style of Briquet 4235 (Metz 1492), but closer in appearance to a large group of watermarks unknown to Briquet and attested for Frankfurt a.M. c.1450 in the Wasserzeichenkartei Piccard, Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart Best. J 340, (‘Herz, darüber Kreuz, relativ klein’), e.g. no. 32428 (Frankfurt a.M. 1449, ex informatione Peter Rückert); the metalcut cannot be as early as this evidence might suggest. Printed in black ink in a press on one side of the paper. There is a break, evidently already in the block from which the leaf was printed, in the lower portion of the border. Coloured in dark brown, yellow, and green. Cropped close to the printed area. Some damage has been incurred in the vicinity of stitching holes round the edges, used to hold the leaf in position. Attached by stitching (and formerly pasted) to the otherwise completely blank leaf [a6v] preceding the ‘Te igitur’ in the Canon Missae printed on parchment by Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer in Mainz in 1458 (407 × 283/4 mm, corresponding to royal folio); see M-284. This leaf was left blank by the printers to receive an illustration, conventionally a crucifixion. According to a note pasted inside the front cover, the Canon Missae of 1458 was extracted in Jan. 1887 from Douce’s copy of the Missale Moguntinum printed by Peter Schoeffer on 3 Apr. 1493 in Mainz (M-259); the two parts of the volume contain marginal notes in the same early hand, indicating that they were united at an early date. A set of stitching holes on the edges of the metalcut, with no corresponding holes on fol. [a6v] of the Canon Missae, indicates that the metalcut was at one time sewn into a different book, and that it was inserted at a later date into its present host volume. When W. Y. Ottley (†1836) saw the leaf, which he erroneously describes as a woodcut, it was already sewn to the blank leaf of Douce’s Canon Missae as it is today. A handwritten note by E. W. B. Nicholson (†1912) in the Bodleian copy of W. Y. Ottley’s An Inquiry concerning the Invention of Printing (shelfmark: 2582 d.3), 196, states that the leaf was at some time removed from the host volume and placed in an album, Douce Prints 210 (‘Early wood-cuts biblical subjects’, later shelfmark Douce Prints c. 26, now kept in the Ashmolean Museum; for a list of the Douce Prints albums and portfolios see Library Records d. 746), but was restored to its original place by him in 1886.

refs. Ottley, Invention of Printing, 196; Report on the Bodleian Library 1882–1887, 50; Nicholson no. 75.

Binding: See M-284.

Provenance: Francis Douce (1757–1834). Bequeathed in 1834. There is no evidence that the metalcut was inserted into the Canon Missae before these items were acquired by Francis Douce. Old shelfmark: Douce 280. Formerly exhibited in one of the glass cases in the Picture Gallery (Upper Reading Room); see Library Records d. 1573, fol. 8r [1931].

shelfmark: Arch. G b.4, fol. [a6v].

St Catherine of Alexandria, see under XYL-8 St Barbara, etc.