British Museum collections, £12.99
Height: 191.000 mm
Width: 109.000 mm
Prints and Drawings
Urs Graf, The Standard Bearer of the Canton of Zug, a white-line woodcut
Switzerland, AD 1521
Zug is one of the Swiss cantons which make up the Swiss Confederation. In 1512, Pope Julius II (1443-1513) granted each canton the right to show simple religious images or scenes from Christ's Passion in the corner of its banner. Zug was allowed to show the pietá (Mary mourning Christ), with several extra figures as a special privilege. This print belongs to a series of sixteen Standard Bearers of the Swiss Confederacy which Graf designed in 1521. The series plays a major role in the history of early printmaking on account of its unusual technique. White-line woodcuts were cut and printed to stand out white on black; this was much more difficult to achieve successfully than the usual type of woodcut designed to print black on white.
In subject, the print is related to a pen and ink drawing of The Standard Bearer of the Canton Zug which Graf made in the same year. This probably belonged to a separate series of drawings of standard bearers of the cantons.
Urs Graf (about 1485-1529) fought as a mercenary in Burgundy and Italy from 1510 to 1521. The lively, dramatic style of his drawings and prints was often inspired by his life as a soldier. They frequently display a satirical, even brutal humour, particularly against women. It is no surprise, therefore, that Graf was often in trouble with the authorities in Basel. His offences ranged from libel and fighting in public to beating his wife.
J. Rowlands with G. Bartrum, The age of Dürer and Holbein: (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)
J. Rowlands and G. Bartrum, Drawings by German artists in, 2 vols. (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)
G. Bartrum, German Renaissance prints, 149, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1995)
J. Rowlands, Master drawings and watercolou (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)