Pen and black ink
Inv. No. 623
18.4 × 9 cm
This small sheet with an ink drawing of St. Barbara was produced in the second decade of the fifteenth century, most probably in Nuremberg, and thus dates from the earliest period of drawing on paper. The S-curve of the graceful figure, the voluminous, bowl-shaped folds and the termination of the abundantly flowing garment in a plinth-like base all identify it as a work of the »international Soft Style«, the formulaically stylized, attractive modelling of figures which gained currency all over Europe around 1400. As one of the »Fourteen Helpers« – saints whose help could be sought in all kinds of difficult situations – St. Barbara was an object of particular veneration.
The artist, who evidently favoured ornately undulating, calligraphic lines, provided the figure of the saint with a clearly defined contour and employed parallel pen-strokes to lend plasticity to the drapery folds. The figure nevertheless remains somewhat two-dimensional, her body appearing neither as a solid mass nor as a balanced organism; he ponderous tower, which is the saint’s identifying attribute but here seems arbitrarily chosen, ought really to rest on her other hip, the one that is thrust outwards. Along with the figure’s almost silhouette-like isolation, incongruities such as the martyr’s palm »hovering« behind her left hand suggest that this fluently executed work was made as a copy, possibly of a painting. One of the most important early functions of drawings was to »transport« forms for re-use: an artist’s workshop in the late Middle Ages would keep a collection of such models.