Largest purchase of prints ever: coloured woodcuts

Thanks to contributions from four funds, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has been able to purchase two exceptional sets of coloured prints from a private collection. These sets, featuring lansquenets and Turks, are significant additions to the museum’s print collection, which is one of the most important in the world. In financial terms, this is the largest purchase of prints the museum has ever made.

The Mondrian Foundation, the Rembrandt Society, VSBfonds and the Lucas van Leyden Foundation have enabled the museum to purchase two sets of coloured woodcuts dating from around 1530. The prints were made by Sebald Beham, Erhard Schön, Niklas Stoer and Peter Flötner. These artists, who were active in Nuremburg, are the foremost representatives of the generation that followed Dürer. Their work illustrates the unprecedented growth of printmaking during the German Renaissance. These exceptional sets are now on show to the public for the first time. The exhibition will run in the Print Room until 7 March 2010.

Lansquenets and Turks
One set consists of twenty sheets of lansquenets, Swiss and German mercenaries who played an important role in the warfare of the time. They went into battle dressed in close-fitting breeches with exaggerated codpieces, doublets with slashed sleeves and broad-brimmed hats with enormous plumes. Their flamboyant clothes are brought to life in the vividly-coloured prints.
The second set—eighteen pictures of Turkish soldiers and their commanders—is of immense cultural and historical importance. The Ottoman Empire was on the rise and the Turkish forces were advancing towards the heart of Europe. The set reveals a fascination with the powerful enemy, with outlandishly-clad soldiers on horseback or riding dromedaries.

Lost treasures
Almost all the impressions of these woodcuts were lost over the years. Aside from the sets on display now, all that remain are a few loose sheets scattered throughout various European print rooms. The two sets were once part of the collection of the princes of Liechtenstein and were rediscovered after decades in a private collection that was recently offered to the museum.

To complete this newly acquired suite, the museum would also like to purchase a woodcut by Urs Graf dated 1524, an undisputed highlight in the history of European printmaking. This work, portraying a German ‘Landsknecht’ and a Swiss ‘Reisläufer’ accompanied by a prostitute and with Death above their heads, is regarded as the artist’s graphic masterpiece. The print originates from the same private collection as the series of woodcuts and can be seen in the current exhibition.