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Storytelling in Miniature

The “Little Masters”

The prints of the Kleinmeister (Little Masters) of Nuremberg are often unconventional in subject matter. The core of the group consisted of three artists: Hans Sebald Beham (1500–1550), Barthel Beham (1502–1540), and Georg Pencz (about 1500–1550). Showing the influence of Albrecht Dürer’s more secular imagery, the Beham brothers, in particular, often produced innovative, intimate (and sometimes erotic) imagery. It is perhaps because of the personal nature of their art that their small prints, often pasted into books meant for private perusal, were such an important part of their artistic production.

Considering the nonreligious nature of some of their work, it is perhaps not surprising that the three were brought before a board of inquiry in Nuremberg in January 1525. During the inquiry, they openly expressed agnostic or humanistic views and disrespect for the city magistracy. Consequently, they were banned from the city (though they were eventually allowed to return) and dubbed “the three godless painters.”