Israhel van Meckenem (B. circa 1440-45 - 1503)
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Israhel van Meckenem (B. circa 1440-45 - 1503)

Judith with the Head of Holophernes (Bartsch 4; Geisberg, Lehrs, Hollstein 8 IV)

Details
Israhel van Meckenem (B. circa 1440-45 - 1503)
Judith with the Head of Holophernes (Bartsch 4; Geisberg, Lehrs, Hollstein 8 IV)
engraving, a very good impression of the fourth (final) state, comparing well with the impression of the third state in the British Museum, on laid paper with a Crowned Jug and Flower watermark (Lehrs 17), trimmed on or just within the borderline, possibly enhanced with a few subtle touches of pen and ink in places, with a vertical central fold, a small repaired paper loss at the central fold at top, visible mainly verso, two minute repaired holes, two tiny nicks at the lower sheet edge, generally in very good condition
S. 214 x 318 mm.
Provenance
V. Weisbach, Berlin (L. 2539 b)
R. S. Holford, London and Westonbirt (L. 2243)
Special notice

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

Lehrs knew the present example and rated it with one star. Very early impressions of this print are virtually unobtainable. Lehrs only considered the impression in the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein in Vienna as a fine, early impression of the first state.


This sale includes important prints by three of the key figures in the early history of European printmaking. The Master of the Playing Cards (see previous lot) stands singularly and mysteriously at the beginning of engraving as a new art form. Martin Schongauer (lots 112 ff.), in the words of David Landau and Peter Parshall, carried it to technical refinement, while Israhel van Meckenem (lots 72 ff.) was responsible for realizing its full potential as a commercial entreprise.

The anonymous Master of the Playing Cards, working in the Southwest of Germany, was the first to turn the technique of printing from an engraved metal plate into a fine art. He achieved an astonishing and unprecedented degree of refinement and subtlety with relatively limited technical means: clear outlines and short parallel flicks of the needle of varying density and direction to create shadow and volume.

Martin Schongauer then explored the effects of the engraved line to a point from where only Albrecht Dürer, some twenty years later, could take it further. (Tragically, the two never met. When young Dürer went to Colmar in 1491 to meet the older artist, Schongauer had just died.) The present engraving of The Death of the Virgin (lot 117) is a great example for Schongauer's mastery: long sweeping lines, short nervous flicks, cross hatching in all possible degrees and directions, lines ranging from light scratches to deeply engraved troughs, and the conscious use of blank areas, all unite to create a dazzling vision of light and darkness, of space, movement and emotion.

Yet it was Israhel van Meckenem who did more for the success and dissemination of the new art of engraving than the earlier masters. In 1466 young Israhel, originally from the region north of Cologne, had travelled south and for two years worked as apprentice to the Master E.S. on Lake Constance. Upon his death in 1468, Israhel took his master's technical skill and several of his plates back with him and eventually returned to the north and set up his workshop in the town of Bocholt. Until his death in 1503, he produced over six hundred engravings, including many reprints and copies of previous and contemporary masters. Often dismissed as a mere copyist, his own designs however reveal a highly original and secular spirit, and the Ornament with a Hunter being roasted by Hares (lot 75) shows him at his humorous and subversive best.

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