British Museum collections, £12.99
Height: 184.000 mm
Width: 143.000 mm
Donated by H.J. Brooke
Prints and Drawings
Lucas van Leyden, A Young Man Holding a Skull, engraving
The Netherlands, around AD 1519
Ferdinand Columbus owned an impression of this print
Lucas van Leyden constantly experimented with engraving to differentiate between surfaces and materials. In this print the cross-hatching and long parallel lines beautifully describe the young man's garments and headgear. The uniformity of the background heightens the richness of his attire. Although there is no direct evidence, some early commentators thought this engraving might be a self-portrait. It is clear, however, that its subject is a meditation on death. The young man points to the skull, a reminder of the transitory nature of life. His elegant garments and elaborate hat also underline the vanitas theme.
Lucas (about 1489/94-1533) was the son of a painter, and mastered the art of engraving at an early age. He was born in Leyden and was to become the greatest northern European printmaker of the sixteenth century after Albrecht Dürer, whose work he studied closely. Lucas dined with Dürer when the German artist visited the Netherlands in 1521 and Dürer drew his portrait. In the following century Rembrandt, who also came from Leyden, assembled his own collection of prints by van Leyden.
An impression of this print was part of the now-lost collection of Ferdinand Columbus (1488-1539), son of Christopher Columbus. An inventory in Seville describes in careful detail 3,204 prints that once formed part of this outstanding library, which at the time of his death contained 15,000 volumes. Although Ferdinand's print collection has now vanished, the Seville inventory has allowed its partial reconstruction using other impressions of the prints from around the world.
M. McDonald, Ferdinand Columbus: Renaissanc (London, British Museum Press, 2005)