Study for Heinrich von Kleist's Broken Jug

This drawing is a preparatory study for one of Menzel's illustrations of Heinrich von Kleist's play, The Broken Jug, a comedy about love and corruption. The plot revolves around a trial in a village courtroom, where a young man named Ruprecht is accused of breaking a pitcher. Actually it is the judge himself, Adam, who broke the jug while pursuing a romance with Ruprecht's fiancée, Eve. The print for which this drawing is preparatory depicts the moment when it is revealed that the judge, Adam, deceived Eve by making her believe that her boyfriend was to be drafted to fight in the East Indies. The night the pitcher was broken, Adam was at Eve's home trying to convince her that in exchange for sexual favors he could arrange from Ruprecht to avoid conscription. The play's title, The Broken Jug, is an analogy to Eve's potential loss of chastity. The highly symbolic names, Adam and Eve, make reference to temptation and the fall of humankind.

The sheet demonstrates Menzel's ideas for the composition unfolding across the page. At left, he explored how Eve is comforted with either a caress of her shoulder or her cheek. At the upper right, Menzel focused his attention on different ways of grasping the false enlistment letter, the evidence of the corruption in the story. At bottom right, he considered how to convey the astonished reaction to the judge's corruption with wide eyes and mouth agape. All these expressions are portrayed with a penetrating realism that brings the characters to life.

Graphite on wove paper (about 1877)

by Adolf von Menzel (German, 1815-1905)

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