- Museum number
Lovers surprised by death; young female figure in antique dress fleeing to left. A male figure dressed as a Roman soldier on the ground, a winged, skeletal figure of death forcing his mouth open. In background Italianate Renaissance architecture. Some outlines reinforced in brown ink. Some small holes and orange stains. 1510
Colour woodcut from three blocks, the line block in dark grey, tone blocks in light grey and salmon pink
- Production date
Height: 210 millimetres
Width: 150 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- See G. Bartrum, 'German Renaissance Prints', exh. cat., BM, London 1995, no.136; A. Griffiths (ed.), 'Landmarks in Print Collecting, Connoisseurs and Donors at the British Museum since 1753', BM, 1996, cat. 67.
Text from Bartrum 1995
Literature: Bartsch, 40; C.Dodgson, II p. 85, 46 III; Burkhard 20 IIIa; Hollstein, 724 (incorrectly described as line block and three tone blocks)
The most famous of Burgmair's prints 'Lovers Surprised by Death' displays a remarkably effective combination of a typically northern subject - a grim representation of Death, for which so many German artists of this period are justifiably renowned - with an evocative Italian setting. The classical architecture, the indication of a gondola on a canal and the distinctively wide chimney-pots make it clear that the subject is set in Venice, where Burgkmair would have stayed during his presumed journey to Italy in 1507. The figure of Death appears winged, as he does in Italian art of the period (see 1845,0809.1230). The classical costumes and the pose of the terrified woman, with her arms outstretched in a manner to resemble that of Daphne fleeing from Apollo, are reminders of the interest in the antique which would have appealed to the educated élite in Augsburg. The strong commercial ties between Augsburg and Venice at this time must also have contributed to a particular appreciation of Venetian art.
This colour woodcut is the first known example to be composed of three, rather than just two blocks. The use of two tone blocks and a line block, printed last in a soft shade of grey rather than the traditional strong black emphasise the dominance of colour over line, and it is significant that, unlike the majority of German colour woodcuts, the line block does not bear enough outlines to be printed as a coherent image on its own.
An important corollary of the larger number of blocks used to print a single image was the greater dependence on the skills of the printer. Impressions of the first and second editions of this print, the first of which is signed in the block by Burgkmair and dated 1510 without the name of the printer, are generally not as successfully registered as this impression from the third edition, from which the date has been removed. The third edition bore the name of the printer, Jost de Negker, in letterpress underneath the image, which in this and some other impressions has been trimmed off. Negker worked on Burgkmair's other colour prints and it is clear that he played a major part in the history of colour printing at this stage.
For a description of the different editions, with reproductions of beautifully printed impressions from three of them, see Nicholas Stogdon, 'Catalogue VIII: German and Netherlandish Woodcuts of the 15th and 16th Centuries', published by the author, 1991, no. 22 (where 1895,0122.379 is described as state IIIa).
For the revival in interest in early German Renaissance colour prints during the late nineteenth century, and their impact on artists such as Edvard Munch who took up printmaking in Berlin in 1894, see Giulia Bartrum, (ed), 'Edvard Munch: love and angst', London, 2019, pp. 68-69 no.23, and p.203.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1995 Jun-Oct, BM, 'German Renaissance Prints, 1490-1550', no.136
1996 Apr-Jun, Houston, Mus. of Fine Arts, Landmarks in Print Collecting
1996 Jul-Sep, LA, Huntington Library and AG, Landmarks
1996, Oct-Dec, Baltimore, Museum of Arts, Landmarks
1997 Jan-Apr, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Landmarks
2003/4 Sep-Jan, Tarragona, Sala Tarragona, Masters of Printmaking
2004 Feb-April, Palma, Fundacio 'la Caixa', Masters of Printmaking
2004 April-July, Lleida, Fundacio 'la Caixa', Masters of Printmaking
2015-16 Nov-Jan, BM, "German Renaissance Colour Woodcuts"
2019 11 Apr - 21 Jul, London, BM, G35, Edvard Munch: love and angst
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number