The twelve woodcuts of the Large Passion were created during two discrete periods. Seven are contemporary with the woodcuts of the Apocalypse (see lots 20 and 21) and can be dated to 1496-99, five were made in 1510-11, immediately prior to the publication of the series. Stylistically they are quite distinct, and a comparison between the present Captivity of Christ of 1510 and the Crucifixion of circa 1498 (see lot 19) demonstrates these differences and Dürer's development in the intervening years.
Although in the Crucifixion Dürer is already using hatched areas to create shadows - lending the figures and objects volume - light and shade are still adhering locally to each surface, while the entire scene is bathed in an undefined light. The sun and moon in the upper corners are symbols rather than active light sources, representing bright daylight and the darkness that falls as Christ dies on the Cross. In the Captivity on the other hand, Dürer introduces what Erwin Panofsky called 'the graphic middle tone'. From this medium degree of brightness, by gradually changing the density of lines, he achieves light effects ranging from near complete darkness to bright highlights. As a result, the whole brutal and chaotic scene, as Christ is pulled forward by a rope and his collar, is spatially united. The main figures in the foreground - Christ, his captors, Petrus and Malchus - stand out brightly while the tumultuous crowd recedes into the dimly lit background. Yet all inhabit the same continuous space. It is a night-scene, as the dark sky and even darker hill at upper right suggest. Although the lighting is not entirely consistent, the torch is the logical light-source, illuminating the foreground and the sides of the trees from the right. The lances, pikes and halberds also catch the light, as they poke out above the crowd, lending further rhythm and depth to the scene. In the far background, moonlight falls onto the distant hill at left. The entire scene is filled with atmosphere, movement and drama, one can almost hear the screaming and shouting and the clatter of the armour and the weapons.
In the woodcut medium, Dürer was here at the height of his abilities. Never again would he and his workshop produce woodcuts of such complexity and intense, almost cinematic, realism.
It is only in fine proof impressions such as the present one that the fine nuances of light and shade - and as a result the astonishing illusion of space and depth - can be fully experienced.