The Poet Virgil in a Basket

Artist: Lucas van Leyden (Netherlandish, Leiden ca. 1494–1533 Leiden)

Date: 1525

Medium: Engraving; first state

Dimensions: Sheet: 9 5/8 × 7 7/16 in. (24.5 × 18.9 cm)

Classification: Prints

Credit Line: Gift of Felix M. Warburg and his family, 1941

Accession Number: 41.1.23

Description

According to medieval legend, Virgil fell in love with the Roman emperor's daughter. One night she promised to raise him to her bedroom in a basket but left him dangling halfway to be mocked by passersby the following day. The tale of the poet Virgil in a basket belongs to a popular fifteenth- and sixteenth-century theme, the power of women. Lucas produced two series of woodcuts and several engravings on this theme, illustrating women's ability to make fools of even the wisest of men. In a characteristic narrative strategy of the artist, Lucas placed the main subject in the background, inviting the viewer to join the onlookers in the foreground as they discuss the event.
This print is one of the artist's most delicately engraved and spatially elaborate works, with a clear distinction between foreground, middle ground, and background. Lucas was famed for his ability to create atmospheric perspective, achieved by lessening pressure on the burin so that the lines become increasingly fine and shallow the further from the foreground they are meant to be.

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