Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman
Anonymous, School of Leiden
Netherlandish, 16th century
Young Man from the Rear, Holding a Distaff and Spindle, c. 1510–1550
Pen and brown ink, pricked for transfer, with charcoal or powdered black chalk on verso,
10 7/8 x 8 1/8 in, 27.69 x 20.64 cm (sheet)
Inscriptions: (recto) upper left corner: "Baccio Bandenelli"; traces of a signature in lower right, "A…[?]"
Provenance: Acquired from Joseph Fach, Frankfurt am Main, 1984
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2007.15.2
In addition to its enchantingly comical subject matter, this drawing is of interest because it has been pounced or pricked for transfer. This technique involves the outlining of a composition with a series of small holes, through which a powdery medium, often charcoal, is dusted or, in the case of this drawing, rubbed, transferring the design onto the surface to be painted. Employed in the creation of paintings and frescos, pouncing was also used in the making of woodcuts.1 Indeed, the size of the drawing and the bold and direct style of its draftsmanship suggest that the Young Man Holding a Distaff and Spindle was most likely a preparatory drawing for a woodcut, though no print corresponding to this drawing is known.
This drawing’s subject was also characteristic of printmaking in the late fifteenth and first half of the sixteenth centuries when the battle of the sexes was a popular motif in Northern Europe. In the Young Man Holding a Distaff and Spindle we see an unusual combination of two of the major iconographic motifs of this "battle," in that the man has been emasculated both through his taking up of the distaff and spindle, the emblematic tools of women’s work, and through the loss of his pants, which was equated with the loss of the husband’s dominance in marriage. The latter idea was common from the fourteenth century onward and is still familiar today.2 That the man is grinning is further confirmation that he is a fool. While subjects like the battle for the trousers and the power of women ostensibly depict the normative patterns of society thrown into chaos, this iconography functions in effect as a means of stabilizing and reinforcing the governing hierarchies through this gender inversion.3
The style of this drawing superficially resembles that of Baccio Bandenelli as the inscription with an old attribution indicates, but the bold outlining and insistent hatching strokes, as well as its subject, are more persuasively associated with the School of Leiden in the early to mid-sixteenth century. Though the exact nature of this school remains to be firmly established, artists associated with it like Aert Claesz. (also known as Aertgen van Leyden) used short pen lines with hooked ends to quickly outline forms and broad, parallel hatching of the kind seen in this drawing.4
1. For pouncing, see William W. Robinson and Martha Wolff, "The Functions of Drawings in the Netherlands in the Sixteenth Century," in The Age of Bruegel: Netherlandish Drawings in the Sixteenth Century, ed. Mary Yakush and Sara Day, Cambridge, England, 1986, 26. For its use in woodcut, see David Landau and Peter W. Parshall, The Renaissance Print: 1470–1550, New Haven, 1994, 22.
2. For a discussion of the distaff as the symbol of womanhood and femininity, see H. Diane Russell and Bernadine Ann Barnes, Eva/Ave: Woman in Renaissance and Baroque Prints, New York, 1990, 194. For the battle over the trousers and related themes, see Keith P. F. Moxey, Peasants, Warriors, and Wives: Popular Imagery in the Reformation, Chicago, 1989, 104 and 156.
3. Natalie Zemon Davis, "Women on Top: Symbolic Sexual Inversion and Political Disorder in Early Modern Europe," in The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society, ed. Barbara A. Babcock, Ithaca, NY, 1978, 153.
4. J. Richard Judson, The Age of Bruegel: Netherlandish Drawings in the Sixteenth Century, ed. Mary Yakush, Sara Day (Cambridge, England; Cambridge University Press, 1986), 42, 46. See also J. D. Bangs, Cornelis Engebrechtsz.'s Leiden, Assen, 1979.