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Study of Three Skulls (recto); Architectural Study (verso)
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Barthel Beham
German, about 1530
Pen and black ink, gray wash with white bodycolor highlights on green prepared paper (recto); pen and black ink (verso)
5 7/8 x 9 1/8 in.
89.GA.24

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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.

Detail Views

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False monogram


Other Views

Verso: Architectural study
Verso: Architectural study