It is this latter part of Christ’s life, his sacrifice for our sins, that is depicted in Flagellation, the 18th woodcut to appear in the Small Passion. Here, Christ is seen tied to a column being beaten by two henchmen, one holding a grasp of twigs and the other a scourge. The aggression and movement of the scene is captured through a combination of the intensity of the etchings and the way Durer has depicted the subjects’ furious motion in fine detail (the fact that these etchings were made with a v-shaped tool, going against the grain, made creating such fine artworks all the more impressive). There is also a contrast in the way the henchmen and Christ are poised, with the calm acceptance of Christ verses the potent threat of his agressors, highlighting Christ’s numbness to the ills of the world.
In the 16th century wood engraving was seen as one of the best ways, economically and practically, to make a name for yourself far and wide. Albrecht Durer certainly thought this way as he published the first complete print of his engravings in 1511, which, with Flagellation included towards the middle of the publication, made its way across Europe to Venice and pre-Lutheran Germany. Because of its enduring appeal, there have been several reprints over the years, with the last being produced in the 19th century. Flagellation appears, for instance, in a set of fifteen etchings printed by Lambrecht Hopfer, a 16th century engraver in his own right. The complete set of these is stored at The British Museum.
Also found at The British Museum are 35 of the 37 (including the frontispiece) wood engravings used to produce the original and subsequent prints. Made from pearwood, the wood engravings, including Flagellation, quickly found their way to Italy and the canals of Venice as late as 1612. By then, the series had lost its title page, which was replaced by a new engraving. Wear and tear to the engravings and missing woodblocks serve, ultimately, to highlight the importance of the first edition impressions, which showcase the Flagellation and the overall series in its best condition.