Heinrich Aldegrever, Design for a richly decorated dagger sheath, a copper plate engraving

Germany, AD 1537

The early history of engraved, copper plates for printing was closely associated with the traditional skills of goldsmiths and silversmiths. Schongauer, Israhel van Meckenem, and Dürer each had fathers who were goldsmiths, and they all engraved designs for elaborate metalware. This signed and dated design by Aldegrever (1502-55) for a dagger sheath is a superb example of an established subject for engraved prints.

Daggers decorated with such rich ornament were used for dress and ceremonial purposes. Printed designs may have functioned as sources for both the silversmith and the client. One hundred of Aldegrever's 300 surviving engravings, display ornamental designs with endlessly varied decorative and figurative motifs, illustrated in this example. These engravings are probably the most famous ornamental prints of the period.

Aldegrever worked in Soest in northern Germany. His work was influenced by nearby Netherlandish art and by imported Italian ornamental prints. However, the rich range of tone from light to dark in his engravings, and his Italianate subject matter, link him to the Nuremberg 'Little Masters'. Aldegrever is himself sometimes regarded as a Little Master.

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More information


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


Height: 298.000 mm
Width: 67.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1844-4-25-26(2)



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