Hans Burgkmair, Lovers Surprised by Death, a woodcut


British Museum

British Museum
London, United Kingdom

The image of Death became widespread in late medieval Christian art, particularly in Germany. Rarely in art, however, did Death shatter the lives of mortals with the violence shown here by Burgkmair (1473-1531).The young soldier has been flung to the ground by the ghastly spectre, which tears his jaws apart as it stamps out his soul. The terrified girl pulls in vain to release her dress from its clamped teeth. The background of this scene shows evidence that Burgkmair had visited Venice. A gondola floats on a canal, Venetian chimney pots break the skyline, and the figures wear classical clothes under a Renaissance portico. Six years later the Venetian Ugo da Carpi claimed for himself the invention of chiaroscuro printing.The signed print is also famous as the first chiaroscuro woodcut conceived entirely in blocks of tone. Cranach had produced a chiaroscuro woodcut in 1507 by printing a line block of gold over a black line block on tinted paper. Burgkmair worked with a talented printer, Jost de Negker, whose technique was to first print a block of salmon pink, from which only the highlights had been cut away. This was overprinted with a block of light grey, and then a further block of darker grey. None of the blocks would have been readable if printed alone.


  • Title: Hans Burgkmair, Lovers Surprised by Death, a woodcut
  • Date Created: 1510/1510
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 210.00mm; Width: 150.00mm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: woodcut; colour
  • Subject: death
  • Registration number: 1895,0122.379
  • Producer: Print made by Burgkmair, Hans. Block cut by Negker, Jost de
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Mitchell, William

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