Nuremberg dialect, 15th century
This small ink drawing of St Barbara was most likely produced in Nuremberg during the second decade of the fifteenth century, making it one of the earliest examples of drawing on paper. The S-shaped curve of the delicate figure, the voluminous thin folds and opulently flowing robe, which ends in a pedestal-like base, shows it to be a work of International Gothic, the formulaically stylised and delightful style known in German as 'schöner Stil' ('beautiful style') or 'weicher Stil' ('soft style') and which was widely practised throughout Europe around 1400. St Barbara is one of the 'Fourteen Auxiliary Helpers' - saints who could be invoked in all emergencies - and was thus particularly revered. The illustrator, who had a noticeable preference for artistically undulating, calligraphic lines, has outlined the figure of the saint with a firm contour and developed the folds of the robe three-dimensionally with parallel pen strokes. The figure nonetheless remains mostly two-dimensional; her body appears to be neither a volume nor a well-balanced organism; and she really ought to be carrying the weighty tower, the attribute that identifies her as St Barbara and which looks exchangeable, on her other hip, which she has thrust forward. Inconsistencies like the martyr's palm "floating" behind her left hand and the almost silhouette-like isolation of the figure indicate that this fluently drawn work was created as a copy - possibly from a painting. One of the most important early functions of drawings was to "transport" forms and preserve them in the stock of reference pictures stored in a late-medieval artist's workshop.