Madonna and Child, a woodcut

Germany, AD 1450-70

The Virgin sits on a cushion placed on a tiled floor, a position chosen to show her humility. Behind her, a cloth of honour hangs from a rod, which continues around the sides of the image to form a frame. This woodcut, thought to be from the mid-fifteenth century, was hand-coloured after printing in washes of crimson, yellow ochre, viridian green and pale brown.

Unlike paintings of this period, the production of woodcuts was not controlled by guilds, so the refined simplicity of the earliest prints tended to deteriorate in the mass-produced woodcuts. This woodcut shows the coarser quality typical of the mid-fifteenth century.

The design has probably been copied from a more accomplished work. The hatched lines in the drapery must originally have indicated shadows, but here they look arbitrary and meaningless. The perspective lines on the floor are inconsistent, and the background pattern is so large that it overwhelms the features of Christ and the Virgin. Despite such clumsiness, woodcuts such as this performed a social function by printing devotional images that almost anybody could afford.

Find in the collection online

More information


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


Height: 281.000 mm
Width: 191.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1895-1-22-12 (Campbell-Dodgson A 54; Schreiber 1058)



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore