- Museum number
A bear holding a skep on his back with a leaf-shaped shield suspended from his neck; bear wearing a muzzle holding a basket of bees and honey-comb
Pen and black ink
Verso: Head of a bearded man in profile to left
Pen and brown ink
- Production date
Height: 125 millimetres
Width: 98 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Swiss, early XVI century
The Verso drawing is probably by a 17thC French hand.
LITERATURE: Yvonne Tan Bunzl, Old Master Drawings, London, 1984, no. 3, repr. (as Swiss School early sixteenth century); BM Dürer and Holbein, p. 211, no. 178, repr.
This is a study for a charming ornamental feature, characteristic of the taste favoured in the late Gothic period for such naturalistic conceits. The idea of the supporter of a heraldic shield, shaped like a large leaf, being a bear carrying a skep full of bees and honey-comb is just the type of amusing device that appealed to the cultivated in northern Europe during this period. As the bear as an emblem was particularly common with the rising power and expansion of the Swiss Confederacy at the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the following one, it is quite natural to think that this drawing should be of Swiss origin. For not only is the bear the emblem of the canton and city of Bern, but also it was often used to support the arms of the Swiss cantons, as well as being the watermark of a leading manufacturer of Swiss paper during this period (see Lindt, pls. I-71; Briquet, 12256-83).
While considering the possibility of it being by an Augsburg artist (see, for instance, the bears that occur in some woodcut initials by Hans Weiditz (q.v.) (Musper, ‘Petrarka-meister’, p. 9, repr.)), it seems perhaps more likely that the draughtsman was active in Basel or possibly of Upper Rhineland origin. So far no particular artist suggests himself as a thoroughly convincing candidate. While it is possible to note a certain superficial link with Urs Graf (q.v.), the spirit of its conception as well as the calmer, less vigorous pen-work rules out his authorship entirely. But it is quite likely to be the work of a contemporary from the same region and probably from the second decade of the sixteenth century. One may recall Graf's use of figures of crouching bears who hold shields in his woodcut ‘The Imperial arms and arms of the cantons of the Swiss Confederacy’, published in 1514 (Hollstein, xi, p. 153, no. 318, repr.). It is not impossible that the bear in the present drawing may have been intended as a single element in a much larger ornamental scheme as, for instance, a frieze of different animals supporting a series of shields.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1988, July-Oct, BM, Age of Dürer & Holbein, no. 178
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number