Graf, Urs

Graf, Urs

Graf or Graff, Urs, c.1485-1528, Swiss wood engraver, etcher, painter, and goldsmith, studied at Basel. He was influenced by the work of Dürer and Hans Baldung. One of the first to employ effectively the technique of white-line engraving, he was known for his lively humor and fantasy, as well as for his more serious religious aspect. A pen drawing of 1523 (Kupferstichkabinett, Basel), thought to be Lucretia, is representative of his vigorous, Düreresque style.

Urs Graf (born 1485 in Solothurn, Switzerland; died after 1529) was a Swiss Renaissance painter and printmaker (of woodcuts, etchings and engravings), as well as a mercenary soldier. He only produced two etchings, one of which dates from 1513 - the earliest known etching for which a date has been established. However, his woodcuts are considered of greater significance, particularly as he is attributed with the invention of the white-line woodcut technique, where white lines create the image on a black background. He also produced a few engravings, including copies of works by Martin Schongauer and Albrecht Dürer .

Graf learned his profession first from his father, Hugo Graf, then from a goldsmith in Zürich. He initially earned money as a designer of woodcut book illustrations and by assisting a stained glass painter. In 1512, he became a member of the goldsmiths guild and a citizen of Basel. He quickly came into conflict with the law for abusing his wife and supporting prostitution, culminating in accusations of attempted murder which caused him to leave the city in 1518. He was allowed to return to Basel the following year, where he continued working, but in 1527 he vanished from the city, never to be heard of again; although there is a signed drawing from 1529.

Like many Swiss men of his day, Graf was known to have worked as a mercenary for considerable periods. His artistic output, arising from the tradition of Albrecht Dürer and Hans Baldung, includes a wide range of subjects, depicting social, erotic, military, political and criminal images (eg. Two Prostitutes Beating a Monk), as well as strong religious feelings which emerge in some works.


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