Mercenaries and Turks

Sebald Beham, Lansquenet, c. 1530, Woodcut, coloured with watercolour, 33 x 22 cm, Private collection
Sebald Beham, Lansquenet, c. 1530, Woodcut, coloured with watercolour, 33 x 22 cm, Private collection

A Recovered Treasure from the German Renaissance
5 December 2009 – 7 March 2010

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is exhibiting two unusual coloured sets of woodcuts from the German Renaissance in the Print Room. They are a recovered treasure that has been missing for decades. One set portrays Swiss and German mercenaries in colourful costumes. The other is of great cultural-historical importance and shows exotically clad Turkish soldiers riding horses and camels.

The prints, which date from around 1530, were made by Hans Sebald Beham, Erhard Schön, Niklas Stör and Peter Flötner. These artists, who worked in Nuremburg, are the most distinguished representatives of the generation after Dürer. Their work illustrates the unprecedented growth of printing during the German Renaissance. The two sets are joined in this exhibition by a number of German master drawings and prints by Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, Albrecht Altdorfer and others from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s own collection.

Full of colour
One set is made up of twenty sheets of lansquenets—Swiss and German mercenaries who played an important role in the wars of the time and fought in tight breeches with conspicuous codpieces, doublets with slashed sleeves and broad-brimmed hats with enormous plumes. Just how colourful these clothes were is brought to life in these brightly-coloured prints.

The second set, eighteen scenes of Turkish soldiers and their leaders, is of great cultural-historical importance. The Ottoman Empire was in the ascendant and the Turkish army was advancing towards the heart of Europe. The set reveals the Europeans’ fascination with the powerful enemy and its exotically dressed soldiers on horses and camels.

Cultural treasure
The two sets of woodcuts must have been specifically designed to be coloured. Over the years virtually all the impressions were lost. Aside from the sets being exhibited now, only a few loose sheets have survived; they are now scattered among various European print rooms. The two sets, once part of the collection of the rulers of Liechtenstein, were recovered after decades. They are being shown to the public for the first time in the Print Room of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The Print Room holds one of the finest collections of German Renaissance drawings anywhere and the museum hopes to add to it by purchasing these exceptional woodcuts.