Anonymous, German School
The Franciscan monk, Pelbartus of Temesvár, studying in a garden
White-line woodcut, c.1502
Unlike a conventional woodcut, the lines forming the image have not been printed in relief; instead the design was carved into the surface of the block of wood so that, when printed, the lines appear white against a black background. It has been suggested that the idea of the dark background derives from the initial letters in manuscripts. The roundels at the four corners, containing symbols of the Four Evangelists (copied from engravings by Martin Schongauer), were printed from separate blocks and have been aligned with expert care. It is possible to assign the date 1502 because impressions of this print and another image printed with the same roundels were used in another of Pelbartus's books, Stellarium Corone benedicte marie virginis, published that year in Augsburg by Johann Otmar (fl.1481- c.1513).
These blocks are thought to be the earliest example of this type of technique, later used to great effect by the Swiss artist Urs Graf (c.1485-1529) for his series of Standard Bearers of 1521. A close look at the white lines in this print shows that they have been cut with different tools than for a traditional black-line woodcut, where the cutter would use a knife or chisel to gauge out the background. Here the unknown printmaker has used a sharp tool to engrave into the block, creating a real sense of volume, especially in the branches forming the wattle fence surrounding the monk (see detail).