This fascinating, quite large woodcut of Christ on the Cross between the Virgin and Saint John, printed on vellum and handcoloured, marks a crucial point in Burgkmair's development as a graphic artist. Created in 1502, it stands both chronologically and artistically at the pivotal point between the 15th and the 16th century. The overall composition is still very much in the tradition of the Crucifixion groups of 15th-century missals and certainly indebted to Schongauer's earliest engravings of the same subject (e.g. Lehrs, Hollstein 12). And although there is little in this print to presage that Burgkmair would, not even ten years later, create some of the earliest chiaroscuro woodcuts and Renaissance masterpieces such as Lovers surprised by Death (1510; B. 40) and the portrait of Johann Baumgartner (1512; B. 34), there is a new monumentality to the figures which reveals a new, decidedly Italian influence.
It is fascinating to compare Burgkmair's Christ on the Cross with one of Albrecht Dürer's earliest woodcuts of the same subject, an impression of which was sold recently at Christie's, New York (29 January 2019, lot 17). The print, created for a missal around 1493, also takes Schongauer's example as a starting point. Dürer maintains the 'gothic' delicacy of the figures, but adds a landscape and begins to enliven the gestures and positions of the figures, while Burgkmair in the present print lends a weighty physicality and presence to the bodies. One can see how both artists, each in their own way, are striving to animate the biblical scene and to bring it into the here and now.
Burgkmair's woodcut was first published in the Missale Frisigense by Ratdolt in Augsburg in 1502, without letterpress text.
Ratdolt used it again in the present, second version, in the Missale Pataviense of 1505, with the letterpress text, and again in other Missale in 1505 and 1510, respectively, with a small change in the text. In these last two editions, the last words reads 'temporibus' instead of 'tembus', as in the present impression.