Sebald Beham (1500-50)

Sebald Beham and his younger brother Barthel (1502-40) grew up in Nuremberg when Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), the city's greatest artist, was at the height of his fame. Although no direct contact between them and Dürer is recorded, his influence on their work was decisive. They are often called the 'Little Masters', after the small plates they engraved with Dürer's range of lights and shadows.

In January 1525 the two Beham brothers, and their associate Georg Pencz, were expelled from Nuremberg for their radical religious and political views. In those early years of the Reformation, and a few months before the outbreak of the Peasant's Revolt, their power as printmakers to influence popular opinion was potentially dangerous. Although they were allowed to return in November 1525, Sebald was forced to flee again in 1528, when he was prosecuted for plagiarising Dürer's book on the proportions of the horse. In 1532 he settled in Frankfurt, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Sebald was a prolific printmaker. Apart from the eighteen etchings and 252 engravings he published himself, he designed for other publishers some 1500 woodcuts, including broadsheets and book illustrations. His sole surviving painting is an extraordinary table top dated 1534 (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which shows Renaissance architecture in perspective, and includes a self-portrait and a portrait of the patron, Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg.

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