Art, Art History and Design, School of


Date of this Version





Copyright 1977 by Walter L. Strauss


Love between the old and the young is a theme that has interested artists and audiences since antiquity, when Plautus (d. 184 B.C.), working after Greek originals, set down in writing the first representations of this theme that have come down to us.

The scope of this work is primarily the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a period in which conditions were such that the Unequal Lovers theme attained a new popularity and was first depicted as an independent representation in the visual arts. This popularity was most pronounced in northern Europe, especially Germany, and it is this greatest period of German efflorescence (ca. 1470-1535) that delineates the time span covered here. The invention of engraving and the other graphic arts; the growth of the middle class, for whom money took on a new accessibility; the invention of the printing press, which of course revolutionized communications and the spread of ideas; the increasing interest in secular and satirical subjects: each of these related factors accounts partially for the particular appeal of this theme to the audience of the time. It is therefore a fruitful period for the study of the Unequal Lovers theme, and we shall limit ourselves, at least in the visual arts, to it.

This study will attempt to catalogue for the first time the numerous representations that appeared around 1500 (see Handlist, p 138), and deal with the following questions: How popular were Unequal Lovers in the literature and visual arts of that time? Does contemporary literature help clarify the significance of these representations? What were the meanings of these works of art? And who were their audience?


A Universal Theme
Literary Sources from Plautus to Shakespeare
Artistic Predecessors
Symbolic and Iconographic Elements
Conclusion and Interpretation

[203 pages]