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Anton Woensam von Worms

(before 1500 Worms? – 1541 Cologne)

attributed. Death and the Musician. Engraving. 13.8 x 10.3 cm. 1526. Brulliot I, No. 766; Nagler, Die Monogrammisten, I, No. 1487, 1.

The monogram AWW initially led Brulliot to associate this highly evocative and haunting vanitas depiction with Anton Woensam von Worms, a painter and woodcutter from Cologne. Nagler, on the other hand, attributed the print to an anonymous German master. Our engraving, however, clearly shows the monogram with the double W used by Woensam, which appears many times on the woodcuts of this master. There are also unmistakeable typological parallels with Woensam’s handling of the figures. The present scene projects a Renaissance-style image of man that is clearly influenced by Albrecht Dürer and Italian models. The figure style of the laurel-wreathed musician is almost identical to that of Adam in Woensam’s woodcut depicting the first human couple (Bartsch 1). The torso and legs show similar, detailed and pronounced musculature, and the head with its prominent cheekbones and curly crown of hair are also eminently comparable. The extremely sensitive modelling of the athletic, classical-style body is achieved by means of delicate, mostly parallel hatching, which is transformed here and there into denser cross hatching. The interaction of the two protagonists is memorable and of great artistic vigour. The musician, having exchanged his instruments – a shawm, various wind instruments and a citole – for a skull, muses over his own finite nature. The gesture of his raised right hand is defensive, as if he were urging death to be patient and forbearing. However, the latter’s terrifying, decayed figure permits no respite: the hourglass he holds points relentlessly to an expired lifespan.

This exquisite, small sheet is eminently rare and, together with a depiction of St. Andrew (Nagler, 1487, 2), probably the only engraving in Anton Woensam’s oeuvre. A superb, rich and contrasting impression from the still uncleaned plate; with thread margins around the inky platemark. In mint condition.

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