Christ on the Cross between the Virgin and Saint John (Canon Crucifixion)
37.2 cm x 23.4 cm (14 5/8 in. x 9 3/16 in.)
Anonymous German (Bamberg and Regensburg)
Medium and Support:
Woodcut with hand coloring, gilding, and silvering on vellum
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Purchase through the generosity of the Still Water Foundation and the Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund, by exchange, 1996
This, the central image of the Christian faith, commonly appeared before the Canon of the Mass in medieval manuscript missals, the books containing all that is said or sung at mass during the entire year. As these were replaced by printed volumes in the second half of the fifteenth century, the Kanonbild, or Canon Crucifixion, was translated into woodcut, printed separately, then pasted into the volumes or sold as an independent devotional image. This particular version appears in missals published by Johann Sensenschmidt with various partners in Bamberg and Regensburg between 1485 and 1492. The museum’s impression was printed on vellum, colored by hand, and gilded and silvered in the halos in order to imitate the appearance of a manuscript leaf. There are three other such deluxe impressions in the United States. Deeply conservative in function and materials, they are excellent examples of the relationship between the manuscript tradition and early prints, especially in northern Europe. At the same time, amid the explosion of book illustration in the late fifteenth century, Kanonbilder were much larger in size, more articulate in cutting, and more expressive—note the body of Christ—than the typical product of the day. Within a decade, Albrecht Dürer would introduce virtuoso artistic woodcuts. The Kanonbilder point in their direction and help explain their origin.