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St. Christopher, with the date 1423, from a cut in the possession of Earl Spencer

St Christopher.jpg Big Birds’ ceremonyThumbnailsAugustine Preaching before EthelbertBig Birds’ ceremonyThumbnailsAugustine Preaching before Ethelbert

This cut is much better designed than the generality of those which we find in books typographically executed from 1462, the date of the Bamberg Fables, to 1493, when the often-cited Nuremberg Chronicle was printed. Amongst the many coarse cuts which “illustrate” the latter, and which are announced in the book itselfII.11 as having been “got up” under the superintendence of Michael Wolgemuth, Albert Durer’s master, and William Pleydenwurff, both “most skilful in the art of painting,” I cannot find a single subject which either for spirit or feeling can be compared to the St. Christopher. In fact, the figure of the saint, and that of the youthful Christ whom he bears on his shoulders, are, with the exception of the extremities, designed in such a style, that they would scarcely discredit Albert Durer himself.

To the left of the engraving the artist has introduced, with a noble disregard of perspective what Bewick would have called a “bit of Nature.” In the foreground a figure is seen driving an ass loaded with 48a sack towards a water-mill; while by a steep path a figure, perhaps intended for the miller, is seen carrying a full sack from the back-door of the mill towards a cottage. To the right is seen a hermit—known by the bell over the entrance of his dwelling—holding a large lantern to direct St. Christopher as he crosses the stream. The two verses at the foot of the cut,

Cristofori faciem die quacunque tueris,
Illa nempe die morte mala non morieris,

may be translated as follows:

Each day that thou the likeness of St. Christopher shalt see,
That day no frightful form of death shall make an end of thee.

A Treatise on Wood Engraving
By John Jackson
Published in 1861
Available from gutenberg.org