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Storytelling in Miniature

Barthel Beham
German, 1502–1540

Titus Gracchus (Battle of the Nude Men)

Engraving, 1528
2 1/16 x 11 1/2 in.
Frederick B. and Kate L. Shoemaker Fund, 1939.485

In this densely packed print, Barthel Beham is continuing a tradition of battle scenes that dates back to antiquity. The motif is likely derived from sarcophagus reliefs dating from Roman times.

The title refers to the Roman Tiberius Gracchus (about 165–133 BCE), who led a rebellion against aristocratic landowners who were attempting to seize land held by freemen. In 133 BCE Gracchus was beaten to death along with 300 of his followers. It is reputed that legs for the furniture in the Roman Senate house, along with whatever else could be easily converted into a weapon, were used in the brawl.

The date of production of Titus Gracchus (1528), just three years after the Peasant’s Revolt in Germany (1524–25), in which over 100,000 perished, seems more than coincidence.