Albrecht Dürer
c. 1502

An original Albrecht Dürer Woodcut print.

c. 1502

Original woodcut printed in black ink on laid paper bearing the “Flower with Triangle” watermark (Meder 127).

Signed in the block with the artist’s monogram lower center

A strong and dark 16th century/lifetime impression from the Latin edition of 1511, without the letterpress text on the verso (typical of this the last print from the bound edition). The twentieth and final woodcut issued in the album The Life of the Virgin.

Catalog: Bartsch 95; Kurth 191; Meder 207; Strauss 70; Schoch/Mende/Scherbaum 185.

11 11/16 x 8 1/4 inches

Sheet Size: 11 13/16 x 8 7/16 inches

Although this is the last plate found in bound editions of The Life of the Virgin, it is actually the first of the twenty woodcuts from that series to have been carved, while at the same time being the first example of Dürer’s preoccupation with the intricate perspective of interiors.

The Virgin holds the Infant Christ who looks at the Gospel shown to him by angel, while a second angel plays the harp. The other participants in this crowded scene are (from left to right): St. Jerome, beckoning his lion who is partly hidden by the column; St. Paul, carrying his sword, as the Defender of the Faith; St. Augustine, wearing a mitre, as Bishop of Hippo; St. Anthony, carrying his pilgrim’s staff, surmounted by a Cross and a bell; John the Baptist, holding the lamb; St. Joseph, hat in hand, looking old in order to stress the Virginity; and in the foreground St. Catherine, the spiked wheel of her martyrdom and a vase with lilies of the valley – symbolizing purity – beside her. The pot next to the Virgin holds peonies, which were considered to have special; protective powers, and were equated in beauty with lilies and roses.

The winged putti in the immediate foreground are busy playing a flute, catching a rabbit, and holding a pin-wheel, rattle, and two empty escutcheons. This latter detail, and the fact that one of the putti is holding a pair of keys, symbolizing the authority of a housewife, have led to the suggestion that this woodcut was originally intended as an independent sheet, in this instance as a wedding souvenir, the crests of the bride and groom to be filled in. To this must be added that St. Catherine is deemed the patroness of virgins and brides.

Apart from these playful activities, the entire scene is placed in the nuptial chamber of the Virgin, indicated as such by the curtained bed, and the symbolic glass window in the background through which light passes, as the Holy Spirit entered the Virgin – without a blemish. The dark chamber, partially visible through a break in the wall, and surmounted by Moses with the tablets of the law, is deemed to represent the tabernacle of the Old Law.