Death Three Naked Women, circa 1520-50
Engraving by the wonderful German printmaker Hans Sebald Beham, circa 1520-50.
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Barthel's work named as the first state in Hollstein (after Pauli), the second state is Sebald Beham's reworking of the plate of around 1546-50 with his own monogram.
The composition is based on Dürer's Four Witches of 1497, the image of death appearing to three women also popular in Baldung's work.
The appearance of Death in a wide variety of situations must be one of the most common secular subjects of the visual arts of the early sixteenth century, but Barthel is noted for his originality of treatment. The arrangement of figures here is based on Dürer's engraving 'Four Witches' of 1497 and the image of Death appearing to three figures of women of different ages is seen in paintings by Hans Baldung Grien and others. The unusual aspect of Barthel's interpretation is the manner in which no fear of Death is expressed by the women, but rather an acceptance and inclusion of the macabre figure within their intimate group. As in the case of his reinterpretation of the bathhouse theme, Barthel has taken a fashionable subject and heightened the erotic aspects of it for the purpose of the market of small engravings.
Sebald Beham always worked under the influence of his younger brother Barthel, and clearly profited from the popularity of his designs after Barthel's death in 1540 by producing numerous copies of them. The plate for this engraving ended up in Sebald's possession, for he reworked it entirely and issued it c. 1546-50 with the addition of his own monogram.