BALDUNG GRIEN, Hans
(b. 1484/85, Schwäbisch-Gmünd, d. 1545, Strasbourg)

The Groom Bewitched

c. 1544
Woodcut, 33 x 19,7 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Hans Baldung was a powerful designer of woodcuts, second only to Dürer in his ability to create an atmosphere in which the familiar becomes strange and eerie. He, like some of his Flemish contemporaries, favoured weird tales of demons and witches, so that many of his scenes deal with diablerie and magic. One of his masterpieces of this genre represents malevolent witches tiding goats in an atmosphere as ominous as that described by Goethe in Faust.

We display here the startling representation of a bewitched groom, not only because it is typical of Baldung's favourite subject matter, but because it is so original and inventive. One senses in this artist the same desire to probe the laws and principles of perspective that we find in the earlier Italian masters Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesca. The fallen groom, daringly foreshortened, with feet extended almost out of the picture and head reaching to the entrance of a second room, recalls a similar experiment of Andrea Mantegna's, the dead Christ in his painting of The Lamentation.

The unlucky groom had been caring for his horse when the evil creature appeared at the window on the right and leveled her curse at him. He lies prostrate in a trance. The horse turns his head, obviously sensing something strange.

The viewer realizes at once that the artist was as much concerned with his design of picture as with its literary content. On his flat sheet of paper he has succeeded in suggesting deep space: a view that extends from one room into another, and continues through an opening in the back to the open air outside. This print is fairly large and was probably intended as a decoration. The engraved lines are set wide apart except in the back stall, where they are worked into a screenlike effect to suggest a darker area. This is a memorable print, and, for the period, a veritable tour de force.