Lucas Cranach the Elder, St George and the Dragon, a woodcut

Germany, around AD 1507

A chiaroscuro woodcut printed from two line blocks on prepared paper

This sumptuously coloured, signed print by Cranach (1472-1553), is probably the earliest chiaroscuro woodcut. To achieve the dramatic effect of contrasting light and dark shades ('light-dark' is the literal translation of chiaroscuro), woodcuts depend on overprinting woodblocks with differently coloured inks. In this case the mid-tone was supplied by a wash of indigo on the paper. The black line block was printed first, then the second block was printed probably with glue, onto which the gold leaf was applied. The background highlights were added by scraping some colour from the paper.

The finished print imitates the effect of chiaroscuro drawings, which were highly prized in the early 16th century. In 1507 Cranach's patron, Frederick III 'the Wise'), elector of Saxony, sent a proof impression to Conrad Peutinger, a councillor to the future Emperor Maximilian I in Augsburg. At that time Maximilian was seeking to promote the status of the Order of St George. The knight may also represent Maximilian in the guise of the saint.

So impressed was Peutinger with this luxurious novelty that he commissioned Hans Burgkmair (1473-1531) to produce his own chiaroscuro woodcuts. In the following year Peutinger was able to send Friedrich two chiaroscuro prints by Burgkmair. Cranach was keen to stress his priority in inventing the process, but Burgkmair soon elaborated the technique to greater sophistication.

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Lucas Cranach the Elder, St George and the Dragon, a woodcut

  • Example of how mid-tone was achieved

    Example of how mid-tone was achieved


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)


Height: 233.000 mm
Width: 159.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1895-1-22-264 (CD II, 286, 14)



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