Figures from a Satire Against the Clergy, After Hans Weiditz

WAG 1995.247


The figures in this drawing have been copied by Rubens from the left hand section of an anti-clerical woodcut print by Hans Weiditz (1495-1537, also known as the Petrarch Master), which satirised clergy and nuns by showing them worshipping a satanic animal (not shown in the Rubens drawing). The print was used to illustrate Chapter XIII of the Renaissance poet Petrarch's "De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae" (On the remedies of good and bad fortune), which was first published in a popular German translation known as the Fortunebook or Fool's Mirror in 1532. It was still being printed in 1596. The book was very popular for its lively and witty illustrations and provided a rich pictorial source for artists. During his teenage apprenticeship, when this drawing was probably made, Rubens often copied German prints as part of his training. Although Rubens's copy is fairly faithful to the figures in the print he also makes subtle changes to enliven the narrative. For example, he removed the rosary beads clutched by the open-mouthed cleric, changing him from a passively praying figure to one who is actively beseeching his neighbour. Rubens thus gained a deeper understanding of gesture and expression through this copy, which might stimulate ideas for use in future works. William Roscoe believed mistakenly that this drawing was by Hans Holbein the younger (about 1497-1537) and that it was a sketch of Henry VIII's former Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, on the way to his execution in 1535. More was punished for remaining faithful to his Roman Catholic religion by refusing to accept the King's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, nor acknowledge him as head of the newly created Church of England. An illustration of such an important event in England's history no doubt appealed to Roscoe as a politician and historian.