Study of Three Skulls (recto); Architectural Study (verso)

Object Details


Study of Three Skulls (recto); Architectural Study (verso)


Unknown maker, Southern German




Germany (Place created)


about 1530


Pen and black ink, brush with gray wash, heightened with white gouache, on green prepared paper (recto); pen and black ink (verso)


14.9 x 23.2 cm (5 7/8 x 9 1/8 in.)

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Barthel Beham studied the human skull from three different views: side, underside, and front. The care with which he described the intricate pits, crevices, and ridges, particularly on the underside of the middle skull, suggests that he drew them from life. His keen interest in anatomy was a typical manifestation of the emphasis that the Renaissance placed on the study of the human form.

Beham also varied the level of finish on each skull. He chose to simply outline the right skull with black ink and to use a more complex technique of hatching and cross-hatching to create the shadows and hollows of the base on the center one. The left skull, with its iridescent brow glowing with white bodycolor heightening, a bold outline, and the use of gray wash to cast shadows and create depth, emphasizes Beham's graphic expressiveness. The drawing appears to have been a preparatory sketch for a print.

On the other side of the sheet, Beham freely sketched an architectural study showing the top portion of a facade. Scholars are uncertain whether this was simply a fantasy building or a structure to be used for a specific festival.

16th Century Northern European Drawings (February 18 to May 2, 1992)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), February 18 to May 2, 1992
Central European Drawings of the 16th and 17th Centuries (March 2 to May 9, 1993)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), March 2 to May 9, 1993
The Secret Life of Drawings (November 23, 2010 to February 13, 2011) (recto and verso)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), November 23, 2010 to February 13, 2011