German Old Master Print of the Baptism of Christ by Hans Wechtlin

Image of German Old Master Print of the Baptism of Christ by Hans Wechtlin

Baptism of Christ in the Jordan
by Johann (Hans) Wechtlin I
Strasbourg, Germany (present-day France); 1508
Woodcut with partial hand-coloring; 21.4 x 16.4 cm

Our print of the Baptism of Christ by Hans Wechtlin is an early example of his talent as a designer. Wechtlin’s period of activity is determined by woodcut illustrations conceived for the first illustrated edition of Virgil’s Aenad in 1502 and his last known print: the frontispiece for a 1526 edition of the Field-book of the Wound-doctor.

Our print is one of forty-five full page woodcut illustrations executed by various artists for the Life of Christ or Das leben Jesu Christi gezogen auß den vier Evangelisten. Mit kurtzer beyleer und christlicher vnderweisung. Darzu vil schoner figuren bedeutung, published in Strasbourg by Ioannes Knoblouchus in 1508.

The lack of text to the verso of our print possibly indicates a proof impression of the design in its original state prior to use on page forty-six of the published book.

Several of Wechtlin’s designs from this publication were again used in later publications like Passio Jesu Christi Salvatoris mundi vario carminum genere. F. Benedicti Chelidonii Musophili, whose publisher and date are undetermined, and Johann Geiler von Kaisersberg’s Postill: Uber die fyer Evangelia durchs jor sampt dem Quadragesimal und von ettlichen Heyligen newlich ußgangen, published in 1522 by Johann Schott in Strasbourg.

The manner of our Baptism of Christ shows an informedness of Albrecht Dürer’s prints while Wechtlin’s rich background design shows an indebtedness to the influence of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s prints.

Although Wechtlin’s artistic production is known only by his surviving prints he was a successful painter and probably used the medium of printing as an alternate avenue of work as did other painters innovating in the medium. The inconsistency in the execution of his woodblocks suggest he probably engaged in the common practice of employing formschneiders to cut away the blocks using his designs as a guide.

Wechtlin was a member of his local painter’s guild by 1519 although he worked earlier in Wittenberg and before that, Nancy, where he served as court painter to René II, Duke of Lorraine in Burgundy. Wechtlin’s serious interest in printing is evident by his early innovative use of the chiaroscuro woodcut in Germany, being one of the few to practice that art there, and a contribution for which he is celebrated and recognized.

Noteworthy is the verso of our print which features a contemporary charcoal sketch of a child, partially traced in slightly later ink with an added landscape scene. Although anonymous, we may wonder if this is a sketch by Wechtlin, an assistant or altogether a later owner of the print.

The child’s character superficially recalls that of the Virgin in Wechtlin’s chiaroscuro print of the Virgin and Child, ca. 1510. The circular manner and treatment around the Virgin's eyes, the emphasis in rendering the lower portion of the nose and her pursed lips generically reflect our sketch as does the character of the Child Christ whose similar downward stare and long, ovular ears relate. Unfortunately, no secure draughtsmanship by Wechtlin is known and the oeuvre of his drawings are highly tenuous.

Condition: Early restorations. Borders mounted. Two horizontal clean tears without loss, backed. Early hand coloring to the halos. Minor rubbing and staining to portions of the surface. Overall a fine, strong impression with wear commensurate with age.