(b. 1473, Augsburg, d. 1531, Augsburg)

Portrait of Jacob Fugger

Chiaroscuro woodcut using two blocks, 210 x 145 mm
Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The chiaroscuro woodcut was first developed in Germany between 1507 and 1510 with the experiments of Lucas Cranach the Elder and Hans Burgkmair in Augsburg. Although initially inspired by coloured drawings executed on paper first prepared with a coloured wash, the technique quickly proved popular. It offered a mechanical alternative to hand colouring or stencilling. The line block is printed first, normally using black ink, on either white or coloured paper. Each impression is printed again with one or more coloured blocks. The registration of the paper and the blocks has to be precise to avoid the colours being misapplied.

The portrait of Jacob Fugger is elegantly simple yet highly imaginative. Rather than employing the line block just for contours and the tone block just for shading, the Augsburg master mixed their applications. He composed from light to dark. The whiteness of the paper stands for the brightest passages, the fleshy brown colour of the tone block for the middle range, and the black of the line block for the shaded areas. Fugger's profile is outlined by the tone block. Yet at the bridge and base of the nose, at the mouth and at the lower curve of the chin, deft touches of black imply deepening shadows. Bold black contour and shading lines dominate the back of the figure. The same tonal gradation is evident in the hat.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.