It is interesting to compare the present lot, executed circa 1498 with Dürer’s treatment of the same subject from approximately five years before (lot 17). While the earlier depiction of the Crucifixion concentrated on Christ himself, the Virgin and Saint John, the woodcut for The Large Passion is on a very different scale and Dürer elaborated it into a far more complex, multi-figure composition filled with movement and activity. There is now a crowd of figures on the ground and three majestic angels underneath the Cross, collecting the blood of the crucified Redeemer. Christ has been raised skyward, thus prefiguring his Resurrection and Ascension. While there is a modesty and a contemplative, almost stoic serenity to the Crucifixion from the Missale speciale, the mood here is one of majestic drama and of high pathos. The difference is most poignant in the figure of Mary, who in the earlier version seems to accept her Son's sacrifice with great humility, whilst in the Large Passion print, her attitude is one of extreme anguish and despair.
Dürer returned to the subject of the crucified Christ in two further series of prints on the Life of Christ, in 1509 in The Small Woodcut Passion and in 1511 in The Engraved Passion. He also explored the subject in the single engraving of Christ on the Cross in 1508 (lot 34), which again explores a different emotive element of this central moment of the Passion of Christ. Each of the subsequent depictions of the subject is gradually pared down again in scale and complexity, and none matches the present woodcut of circa 1498 in it's grandeur and expressive force.
This very fine, early proof impression, printed in a warm brownish-black, is a marvel in clarity and definition, allowing the viewer to appreciate the subtlety and detail of the delicately carved woodcut. The impressive list of previous owners - Baron Stosch, Dr August Sträter, Vinzent Mayer and the Art Institute of Chicago - attests to the outstanding quality of this impression.