(b. ca. 1430, Colmar, d. 1491, Breisach)

A Foolish Virgin

Engraving, 143 x 108 mm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

The name of Martin Schongauer is generally linked with that of Albrecht Dürer, who knew and admired the former's engravings (some 115 plates). Dürer was on his way to Colmar to visit the master, but was delayed on his journey and arrived only after Schongauer had died. However, he was graciously received by Schongauer's family and spent some time at Colmar. Dürer's early graphic style is patently inspired by the work of the older engraver.

A Foolish Virgin demonstrates Schongauer's anticipation of Dürer in his desire to free himself from the prescribed iconography of religious subjects. The story of the wise and foolish virgins was popular in the Middle Ages and was often carved on the stone portals of Romanesque and Gothic churches. This subject permits Schongauer to turn from the holy and virtuous types he delineated so skillfully, and depict a more human type: a woman of the world rather than a saint. He shows a shapely female figure who exudes an aura of sex, with breasts half exposed, inviting glance, and sensual lips. There are a number of drawings by fifteenth-century Italians that depict courtesans and strongly resemble the subject of this print.

The representation here no longer seems a generalized or idealized type, but rather, like the Italian drawings, the image of a woman whom the artist found bewilderingly attractive. artist.

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