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Monday 29 January 2018

Augustin Hirschvogel’s etching, “Baptism of Christ”, 1547

Augustin Hirschvogel (1503–1553)

“Baptism of Christ”, 1547, illustration to Péter Perényi de Nagyida’s and Augustin Hirschvogel’s, “Vorredt und eingang der Concordantzen alt und news Testaments, Durch Pereny Petri... Und nachuolgents durch Augustin Hirßfogel... erweytert” (56 pages with 104 etchings), published in 1550 by Aegidius Adler in Vienna.

Etching on fine laid paper trimmed along the image borderline and re-margined on a support sheet.
Size: (support-sheet) 29.9 x 30.3 cm; (sheet trimmed unevenly) 11.7 x 14.6 cm
Dated on plate at lower right of centre: “1547”

Hollstein 134b (F W H Hollstein 1954, “German engravings, etchings and woodcuts c.1400–1700”, Amsterdam); Paisey 2002 306 (David Paisey 2002, “Catalogue of German printed books to 1900”, London, BMP.”)

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“Baptism of Christ (dated 1547) Christ in middle, with holy spirit and God above, St. John the Baptist at right, assistant at far right” (

Condition: a crisp and richly inked impression (no doubt a lifetime impression based on the quality of the printed lines), trimmed to the image borderline and re-margined. The sheet is in a poor condition with holes, losses to the left and lower edges and a central break. Despite these significant issues, the condition of the print highlights its considerable age.

I am selling this very early and extremely rare etching for AU$310 (currently US$250.81/EUR202.40/GBP178.32 at the time of posting this listing). Postage for this print is extra and will be the actual/true cost of shipping.

If you are interested in acquiring this Renaissance period print executed in Michelangelo’s lifetime and by the artist who arguably popularised the great Albrecht Altdorfer’s approach to landscape, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

Before I discuss this image I must admit that, as an agnostic, I am not the most equipped person to speak of an illustration such as this pivotal moment in the life of Christ: his baptism by St John. Nevertheless, there is a layering of meanings captured in this etching that go beyond the action of the scene depicted and this is to do with the representation of the Holy Trinity (i.e. Christ portrayed in the stream, God the Father shown in the clouds and the Holy Spirit—the dove—in a nimbus of concentric rings) that I enjoy contemplating.

Let me begin …

Christ’s role in the Trinity is as the earth-bound incarnate manifestation of the Lord (forgive me if I haven’t understood the full subtlety of Christ’s role correctly). In this role Hirschvogel has portrayed Christ’s baptism as a temporal event by showing small details of everyday reality such as the dishevelled hair of St John—I love the lock of hair escaping the top of his head—and the unmanicured/natural surrounding landscape with the dead tree on the left that would have made Albrecht Altdoffer very proud.

Regarding Hirschvogel’s portrayal of God the Father whose role in the Trinity is as the supreme spiritual sovereign who supervises and dispenses justice (again my apologies if this explanation is unsatisfactorily simplistic or wrong), here Hirschvogel’s representation of the Lord is very meaningful. From my reading, Hirschvogel is pictorially suggesting that the Lord is in a position that allows him to survey “everything” from the heavens above. Interestingly, Hirschvogel also shows the Lord as symbolically gesturing his spiritual command while not exactly looking at the baptism below.

The third and perhaps the most complex element in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is also the most complex in its projected symbolism. The Holy Spirit, whose role is as a pervasive actively engaged spiritual presence (I really don’t know if this is correct but I ran short of explanatory terms that made sense to me) is represented in the usual symbolic form of a dove, but in this case I see the concentric bands of radiating lines as projecting more than a numinous light. In fact, my reading is that the bands connote a compelling outward force that may be experienced physically like the sharp points in the outer bands. Again, from my reading, I find the duality of the softness of a dove and the dagger-like sharp points as a fascinating and meaningful way of representing a spiritual aura of presence.

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