This engraving most likely dates to the artist’s central period, as evidenced by certain specific characteristics, such as its small scale, the cursory delimitation of space and the absence of details. These features, together with the secular subject, lead us to conclude that this was a model intended to be reproduced by artisans using a variety of materials.
In this print, Martin Schongauer captures the burgeoning interest at the time in the Orient, using elements perceived as typically Oriental: the turban or the crescent moon-shaped scimitar. This colourful vision of the Orient nevertheless reveals the artist’s whimsical side, since the headdress of the man on the right does not correspond to any known model. Perhaps the men depicted are mercenaries from the East, such as were often found in the ranks of armies at the time.
Although this marks the single appearance in Schongauer’s prints of an Oriental theme, he had already depicted exotic human figures in his drawings. In fact, Schongauer’s notebooks contain numerous sketches of Oriental men wearing turbans, which suggests that the artist may have travelled to Spain or Venice, although there are no surviving documents attesting to such a trip.