- Museum number
Young couple holding hands, grouped to form the letter 'A' of an ornamental alphabet. c.1480-1500
Pen and brown ink, over black chalk
- Production date
- 1480-1500 (circa)
Height: 195 millimetres
Width: 113 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Summary of J.Rowlands, 'Drawings by German Artists and Artists from German-speaking regions of Europe in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum: the Fifteenth Century, and the Sixteenth Century by Artists born before 1530', London, BM Press, 1993, no. 45:
'This drawing is of an isolated surviving Gothic letter from a 'figure alphabet'. Judging from its style, it can be dated within the last two decades of the fifteenth century and is probably from the Upper Rhineland. Although the influence of Martin Schongauer which it reflects was widely pervasive, the neat hatching which defines the folds of the drapery and the sophisticated economy of the line suggest that the draughtsman, while lacking a strong individuality, was adept at producing an air of courtly refinement. The production of letters made up of a mêlée of human figures and animals positioned to form the curve of each letter, first emerged in the early thirteenth century, the date of the earliest 'Musterbuch' containing such an alphabet (Vienna, Nationalbibliothek, Cod. vind. 507) and waned rapidly with the rise of the roman letter in the early sixteenth century. A notably lively series of engraved alphabet letters was produced by the Master E.S. in about 1466-7, of which there are ten examples in the BM (eg 1868,0822.147; A. Shestack, Master E.S. ‘Five Hundredth Anniversary Exhibition’, exhib. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1967, nos. 72-75, repr.). An exceptional example produced in the Netherlands is the woodcut ‘Grotesque Alphabet’ of 1464, perhaps the most entertaining late Gothic alphabet of its kind produced before 1500 north of the Alps (see 1947,0724.1 to 12 and B,10-1 to 23).'
Additional info: Two other drawings, copied from the same series as this sheet, are in Frankfurt and Erlangen. They are closely associated with the drawing in terms of subject and style of dress, but are both done in different hands, and neither comprise a discernible letter (Frankfurt, inv.no 734, Schilling 138; Erlangen, Bock 36 (Upper German, c. 1470-80). This makes it unlikely, as Buck has noted, that this drawing is taken from a series of Alphabet letters, and more probable that it is derived from a series of couples illustrating a courtly love theme. The resemblance to the letter 'A' of the BM couple serves as a reminder of the popularity of animated alphabet letters in all forms of ornament during the fifteenth century.
Lit from Rowlands 1993: BM Dürer and Holbein, pp. 50-52, no. 29, repr.
Additional lit: S. Buck,'Wendepunkte deutscher Zeichenkunst: Spätgotik und Renaissance im Städel', exh.cat. Frankfurt am Main, Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie, 2003, under no. 7
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1988, July-Oct, BM, Age of Dürer & Holbein, no. 29
2018 - 2019 8 Jun - 20 Jan, Ottawa, Canadian Museum of History, Medieval Europe
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number