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Old Masters Drawings
The important collection of 16th and 17th-century drawings now owned by UCL derive principally from the gift of the MP and classical scholar George Grote in 1872. Grote had inherited his family collection of bound albums containing early German, Flemish, Dutch and Italian drawings as well as a large collection of prints. The collection was probably put together in the 17th Century, and the most important works are by German 16th-century artists such as Hans Burgkmair (1473–1531) who worked for the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian in Augsburg, and Sigmund Holbein (1501–1540), uncle to the more famous Hans. It also includes hundreds of fascinating drawings of landscapes, costume pieces and religious subjects by lesser known and unidentified draughtsmen that provide a wealth of detail about the period and about artistic practice at this time.
This drawing depicts a
German mercenary foot-soldier known as a Landsknecht. These soldiers are
known to have carried lances and worn brightly coloured costumes made
of leather. However, in this drawing the soldier’s costume is a curious
assemblage of differently slashed sleeves, hose and leggings and the
design may have served as a pattern or a template for two separate
The unusual and striking colour of this drawing results from the use of a deep green ground made from the copper based pigment verdigris that has been applied to this sheet before the artist began drawing. This pigment is regarded as unstable and subject to deterioration over time. However in this instance the drawing appears fresh and very well preserved, probably because since it was made it has been kept within an album, or mounted and boxed, well buffered from light and pollution.
Little is known about the life of Sigmund Holbein, in direct contrast to his more famous nephew Hans Holbein (who later came to England to work for the court of Henry VIII), and works by Sigmund are extremely rare. Like many other drawings of this period the artist has applied a coloured ground to the paper before executing his design, which serves as a third tone to the composition and makes the drawing appear finished.
The drawing therefore served as far more than a simple sketch, and was probably produced as a prized study piece to be kept within a model book within the artist’s studio, for the purpose of training apprentices who would be set to copy these designs. The text which appears from the open mouth of the age-worn man to the bottom left can be translated as 'Thou that destroyeth the Temple' (Matthew 27:40) and represents the words of one of the thieves crucified with Christ. It indicates that the heads may also originally have been studies for a painting depicting figures at the Crucifixion.