Hans Burgkmair, Lovers Surprised by Death, a woodcut

Germany, dated AD 1510 on first state

A colour woodcut printed from three blocks

The image of Death became widespread in late medieval Christian art, particularly in Germany. Rarely in art, however, did Death shatter the lives of mortals with the violence shown here by Burgkmair (1473-1531).

The young soldier has been flung to the ground by the ghastly spectre, which tears his jaws apart as it stamps out his soul. The terrified girl pulls in vain to release her dress from its clamped teeth. The background of this scene shows evidence that Burgkmair had visited Venice. A gondola floats on a canal, Venetian chimney pots break the skyline, and the figures wear classical clothes under a Renaissance portico. Six years later the Venetian Ugo da Carpi claimed for himself the invention of chiaroscuro printing.

The signed print is also famous as the first chiaroscuro woodcut conceived entirely in blocks of tone. Cranach had produced a chiaroscuro woodcut in 1507 by printing a line block of gold over a black line block on tinted paper. Burgkmair worked with a talented printer, Jost de Negker, whose technique was to first print a block of salmon pink, from which only the highlights had been cut away. This was overprinted with a block of light grey, and then a further block of darker grey. None of the blocks would have been readable if printed alone.

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More information


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)

A. Griffiths (ed.), Landmarks in print collecting (London, The British Museum Press)


Height: 212.000 mm
Width: 151.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1895-1-22-379 (CD II, 85, 46 III)



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