Upper Rhine, 15th century
With its black background and collection of subjects, mostly animals depicted in white brushstrokes, this sheet is a very rare and highly unusual artwork. Realistic creatures, like the eagle flapping its wings, the leaping stag and the inquisitive owl, are shown alongside the symbols of the four Evangelists, stylised heraldic animals, a galloping unicorn and a "wild man", a hairy forest-dweller of the kind depicted in late medieval art as an expression of primitiveness and wildness. The drawing is a "pattern sheet"; in fifteenth-century artistic practice, it had the function of gathering together a wide range of references. These bear no relationship to each other as regards content, but are arranged in such a way as to save space on the sheet of paper, so that playful connections sometimes arise between the elements. Thus the horse and the unicorn look as if they are rushing towards each other, and the stag as if it is fleeing from the eagle. Unlike the drawing of "St Barbara", the figures have no delineating contour lines. Instead, they are worked out starting from the interior drawing, in some cases three-dimensionally, whereby the white colour also assumes the effect of light in places. This unusual technique, which gives the sheet the appearance of a valuable showpiece, can probably be explained by the fact that it was produced as a sample sheet by a goldsmith whose speciality consisted of drawing with white glass flow on a dark enamel background. Such enamel works were created during the early fifteenth century in the Franco-Flemish region, but comparisons of the motifs also indicate that the drawing could equally have been produced in the regions of the Upper Rhine.
Johann David Passavant's (1787-1861) biography was an unusual one. Originally trained as a merchant in Frankfurt, he developed from 1817 on into a Nazarene painter and eventually became a co-founder of a science-oriented art history. His work on 'Rafael von Urbino und sein Vater Giovanni Santi', published in 1839, is regarded as a cornerstone of art research. The author dedicated the book to the "venerable administration" of the Städel, which had supported the research undertaking and the printing. Passavant had long cultivated close links with the Städelsches Kunstinstitut and had advised it on its art purchases since 1817. He eventually became its gallery inspector in 1840. The artist and art scholar also established his own small private collection. During his lifetime he bequeathed individual artworks to the Städel, and further objects followed in his will in 1861.