Christ before Herod, a woodcut

Germany, around AD 1400

The earliest woodcut in The British Museum's collections

This large woodcut is probably the earliest print in The British Museum's collection. It was found in the binding of a book printed in Nuremberg in 1478, but the style of the soldiers' armour and the rhythmic lines of the drapery suggest a date closer to 1400. The clarity and simplicity of the drawing is the hallmark of a well-trained painter.

In the late Middle Ages, people would instantly have recognized the subject as Christ before Herod (Luke 23:9). A crowned king seated on a throne raises one hand in a formal gesture of address. Facing him, a standing figure with a halo and bound hands is pushed forward by an armed guard, supported by nine soldiers.

Although papermaking was established in Germany in the 1390s at this early date there was no printing press, which appeared fifty years later when Gutenberg perfecting the process of printing text with movable type. The paper was probably laid on the inked woodblock and rubbed from the back. The ink has printed imperfectly in places, as is apparent on Christ's face.

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Height: 395.000 mm
Width: 285.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1972-U-1047 (Campbell-Dodgson A.10, Schreiber 265)



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