Albrecht Dürer, Hercules, a woodblock and woodcut

Germany, signed, AD 1496-97

Hercules and three other figures in a landscape

The scroll at the top of this woodcut identifies the subject as the Greek hero Herakles (Latin: Hercules). A pagan subject is rare in Dürer's work, so it was probably suggested by one of his humanist friends. These scholars, who read ancient Latin and Greek texts, may have enjoyed choosing a novel subject that baffled the wider public.

The print is one of seven single-sheet woodcuts produced by Dürer after he returned from his first visit to Italy in 1496. These influential prints liberated the woodcut from service to book publishers. The lines in Dürer's woodcuts are no longer restricted to contours, but suggest light and shadow, and include rich descriptive detail. In other words, he has transferred to woodcut the effects of tone and texture achieved by Schongauer in engraving (here, compare Schongauer's drapery and sky).

The technical challenge of cutting a block to reproduce these qualities was considerable. The woodblock for this print survives. It shows that lines were cut sharply down on either side so that they would print crisply and without smudging. Isolated lines, like the stray hairs of the two women, were particularly liable to damage. The pearwood used for this block was popular among blockcutters, because it has close grain and does not split easily.

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More information


E. Panofsky, The life and art of Albrecht D (Princeton University Press, 1945, 1971)

A. Griffiths, Prints and printmaking: an int, 2nd edition (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)

G. Bartrum, German Renaissance prints, 149, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)

D. Landau and P. Parshall, The Renaissance print 1470-155 (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1994)


Height: 390.000 mm
Width: 283.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1895-1-22-708 (B. 127; Campbell Dodgson, I, p.270)


Gift of William Mitchell


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