Erhard Schön, Picture Puzzle of Jonah and the Whale and a Squatting Peasant, a woodcut

Germany, AD 1537

An anamorphic figure in a landscape

Erhard Schön (1491-1542) was the most prolific woodcut designer in Nuremberg after the death of Albrecht Dürer in 1528. He worked for a mass market, producing religious images and popular social satires. He is best known for his unsigned woodcuts that bitterly attacked perceived church abuses, published after Nuremberg accepted the Reformation in 1525.

The anamorphic, or distorted, view in this large, dated print will be impossible to interpret on a computer screen. Jonah is shown stepping out from an imaginative whale but the landscape is not distorted. In the foreground, the stretched inscription reads, WAS SICHST DV? ('What do you see?'), with the date and a small printer's name. To 'see' the subject correctly, a viewpoint from the lower right-hand corner is required. A squatting and defecating peasant then appears. The vulgarity is disguised by the distortion, but the goat on the far left about to charge the naked buttocks gives a clue to the woodcut's underlying peculiarity.

A fad for anamorphic views spread in the 1530s. In about 1531 Schön produced four anamorphic woodcut portraits of European rulers. Holbein's famous painting of The Ambassadors (1533, National Gallery, London), shows a bizarre, elongated shape in the lower foreground of the canvas, only discernible as a skull if the viewer looks at the painting from the lower left corner. William Scrots' painting of Edward VI (1546, National Portrait Gallery, London) is another example of this genre.

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More information

Bibliography

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

Dimensions

Height: 245.000 mm
Width: 890.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1880-7-10-643 (CD I. 552,9)

PPA50359

Location

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