Ornament with Scroll and Dolphins' Heads
Hans Sebald Beham (German, 1500–1550)
Bartsch 235; P. 240 i/II
Sheet: 7.2 x 12.4 cm (2 13/16 x 4 7/8 in.) Platemark: 4.1 x 9.3 cm (1 5/8 x 3 11/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
Sebald Beham was born in Nuremberg in 1500. By 1519 he had become a skilled engraver, drawing upon the miniaturism of Albrecht Altdorfer and the meticulous craftsmanship of Albrecht Dürer. A journeyman painter in 1521, he was a master with his own workshop by 1525, when he and two other artists–his brother Barthel and Georg Pencz–were expelled from the Lutheran city for their radical brand of Protestantism. Though allowed to return a few months later, Beham again ran afoul of local officials in 1528 for apparently publishing a printed version of the recently deceased Albrecht Dürer’s manuscript treatise on the proportions of horses without the widow’s permission.
Despite his infractions against the Church and against Dürer’s legacy, Beham soon found a loyal patron in Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz and a former patron of Dürer. The prelate was more interested in Humanism than theology. In 1530, during Beham’s sojourn in Munich, Albrecht commissioned him to illustrate a prayer book. Five years later, he also commissioned Beham’s only surviving painting, a tabletop depicting the story of King David (Louvre).
About 1541, Beham settled in Frankfurt, where he spent the remainder of his life. His mature work shows both German and Italian influences. In addition to the Italianate currents within the work of Dürer and Altdorfer, he was clearly familiar with the work of Marcantonio Raimondi and other engravers who published the art of ancient and modern Rome. Despite the small scale of Beham’s engravings, they were extremely important in disseminating Renaissance concepts and style, even well beyond German-speaking territories. His designs reappear as decoration on a wide variety of objects such as silver vessels, furniture mounts, book covers, carved coconuts, and all sorts of other Wunderkammer creations. The prints themselves served as cheaper substitutes for the bronze plaquettes treasured by rich collectors. It is ironic that the workmanship of the engravings was often–as here–finer than that of all but the most rarified bronzes.
The present ornament print is an elegant example of Beham’s classicizing style. It’s symmetrically arranged motifs include coiling acanthus leaves, dolphins, and trumpets flanking an sculptural palmette, a design ready for adaptation to other media. Like many of his engravings this print was in such demand that the plate wore down and had to be re-engraved. This impression is an early one, not only prior to the rework but also from when the plate was still fresh. Because they were used by craftsman, many surviving ornament prints are in bad condition. In excellent condition and retaining broad margins, this impression is a rarity.
Verso, lower left, in graphite pencil: 35850 MK
Verso, lower left, in graphite pencil: 1277
Verso, several erased and partially legible inscriptions
Verso, lower center, stamped in brown ink -- mark of Adelbert von Lanna (Lugt 2773)
Adelbert Freiherr von Lanna (1836-1909, Prague, Lugt 2773), inv. no. 34; his sale, Stuttgart, H. G. Gutekunst, 11-22 May 1909, sale no. 66, sold 13 May, lot 733, 78 Marks; to Richard Gutekunst [per Hollstein, not marked] (1870-1961, Bern, cf. Lugt 2213a); Gilhofer & Ranschburg (Vienna and Lucerne), cat. 20, 1929, ill. no. 330 [per Hollstein]; M. Knoedler Gallery (New York), inv. no. 35850; Hill-Stone (New York); from whom purchased by MFA, September 19 2007.
Museum purchase with funds donated by Brent R. Benjamin