Hans Sebald Beham

Hans Sebald Beham, Der Genius mit dem Alphabet (The Genius with the Alphabet), 1542. Engraving. Bartsch 229. Pauli 233. Graphic Arts, German prints

The German artist Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550), who often went by Sebald Beham or HSB, grew up in Nuremberg during a time of political unease. The Nuremberg council actively sought out prints that might be considered propaganda or printmakers who might be religious agitators. Sebald, his brother Barthel (1502-1540), and their colleague George Pencz (1500-1550) were nicknamed the “Godless Painters” when they were brought to trial for atheism, specifically a disbelief in transubstantiation. All three were expelled from Nuremberg, only to return after about ten months.

Sebald was chiefly recognized for his small engravings in the style of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), the undisputed superstar of the era, but this similarity also brought him trouble. When Hieronymus Andreae (ca.1500-1556) hired Sebald in 1527 to illustrated a Lutheran prayer book and several other projects, the two were accused of plagiarizing Dürer and Sebald was once again forced out of Nuremberg.

Biblia: insignium historiarum simulachris… (Paris, printed by François Gryphius, 1542). Graphic Arts (GAX) Z232.G8751 B52

Settling in Frankfurt, Sebald produced nearly 2,000 prints during his career. The same year he engraved the putti above, he was also one of several artists responsible for the woodcuts used in the first Paris Bible to contain illustrations in the Renaissance style, as recognized by bibliographer Ruth Mortimer. She writes, “The first three Old Testament cuts are based on Holbein blocks common to the Dance of Death and Icones sets; the remainder of the Old Testament illustration derives chiefly from a series by Hans Sebald Beham.” (French 16th century books GA Z881 .H346)

For more, see Gustav Pauli (1866-1938), Hans Sebald Beham: ein kritisches Verzeichnis seiner Kupferstiche, Radierungen und Holzschnitte (Strassburg: J.H.E. Heitz, 1901). Marquand Library (SA) ND588.B4 P2