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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
A head of a man wearing a turban
A drawing of a bearded man, facing right and wearing a turban.
Martin Schongauer, nicknamed 'hubsch' (‘pretty’) for the elegance of his works, was one of the most influential artists in Germany before Albrecht Dürer. He lived in Colmar, where he ran a thriving workshop. Schongauer produced drawings, panel paintings and wall paintings, but his fame was spread primarily through his prints, which transmitted his designs and his name across Europe.
This small study belongs to a group divided between Windsor, Paris, Basel, Berlin, Washington, DC and a private collection. Each of the works is drawn in brown ink and depicts the heads and shoulders of a man or woman with an elaborate headdress. Although each has been trimmed during its history, the sheets remain around the same size, suggesting they may have shared an early provenance. All but the Windsor drawing are marked with Martin Schongauer’s monogram, in an early hand (although not the artist’s).
The attribution of the group of drawings has been extensively debated. They were given to Martin Schongauer by Franz Winzinger in his catalogue raisonné of the artist’s drawings, and exhibited as by that artist in a quincentenary exhibition in Colmar in 1991. More recently, Fritz Koreny has convincingly connected the drawings to an altarpiece painted by members of Schongauer’s workshop for the Dominican church in Colmar and now in the Musée d’Unterlinden in the same town. Comparison of the underdrawing in the altarpiece and the group of heads suggests that the drawings may be by the same artist, who was probably a member of Schongauer’s workshop.
Figures wearing turbans were often used in biblical scenes to denote eastern origin, or one who had not converted to Christianity. Studies of the heads of figures wearing oriental headdresses, such as the present example, therefore, were in common use as models for drawings and paintings, and the group of studies probably once formed part of a set of artist’s models. Such groups of drawings were used by artists across Europe to provide patterns for paintings, manuscript illumination, stained glass and embroidery, and other decorative arts.
Catalogue entry adapted from 'The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein', London 2011