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Lot 51: Israhel van Meckenem

Est: £10,000 GBP - £15,000 GBP
Christie'sDecember 05, 2006London, United Kingdom

Item Overview


The Massacre of the Innocents, from: The Life of the Virgin (G. 39; L., Holl. 58)
engraving, circa 1495, a fine, early impression of this rare plate, printing with good contrasts, watermark Letter R within a Shield (cf. Briquet 8987, dated 1493), trimmed on or just within the platemark but beyond the borderline on three sides, trimmed fractionally into the signature below, some minor surface dirt towards the sheet corners, some pale staining in places on the reverse, generally in very good condition
P., S. 269 x 185 mm.

Artist or Maker


Lehrs records seven early, three star impressions of this print in public collections.

The Massacre of the Innocents is one from a set of twelve engravings illustrating the Life of the Virgin. We know for certain that four of these engravings, Joachim's Sacrifice, The Birth of Mary, The Annunciation, and The Presentation on the Temple, are closely or partially related to compositions for the Weingarten Altarpiece by Hans Holbein the Elder (circa 1465-1524). Only four panels of this altarpiece, created around 1493 for the abbey of Weingarten in Upper Swabia, have survived and are today in the cathedral of Ulm. Although we only know these fragments of Holbein's altarpiece, we can assume that Meckenem used it as a source for the entire set of his Life of the Virgin.

In 1466 the young Israhel van Meckenem, originally from the region north of Cologne, travelled south and for two years worked as an apprentice to the Master E.S. on Lake Constance. After the Master's death in 1468, Meckenem remained and worked in the south for several years, until he finally returned to his native area and set up his workshop in the town of Bocholt in 1480. Although his return to the north predates Holbein's Weingarten Altarpiece by several years, Meckenem must have been very aware of the artistic developments and probably stayed in touch with friends and fellow artists from his travelling years in the south.
Meckenem not only used compositions of contemporary painters for his prints, he also reprinted and copied hundreds of plates by other engravers, such as the Master E.S. and Martin Schongauer. For a long time he was disregarded as a mere copyist and has been described as 'the greatest pirate in the history of printmaking'. His own designs however, including the first self-portrait in the history of printmaking, showing him next to his wife Ida, reveal him as an independent, secular spirit and an accomplished engraver.

With his enormous oeuvre of over six hundred engravings, all of which are rare today, Meckenem did more for the dissemination of the new medium than any other artist of the 15th century, and in the year of his death in 1503, the German humanist Jacob Wimpheling considered him, alongside Schongauer and Dürer, as one of the founders of the printmaker's art. (cf. D. Landau, P. Parshall, The Renaissance Print 1470-150, New Haven and London, 1994, p. 56 f.)

No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 17.5% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Auction Details

Old Master Prints An Important Private Collection

December 05, 2006, 12:00 AM GMT

8 King Street, St. James's, London, LDN, SW1Y 6QT, UK