Saint Eustace

Albrecht Dürer
Saint Eustace
c. 1501

An original Albrecht Dürer engraving.

c. 1501

Original engraving printed in black ink on laid paper

Signed in the plate with the artist’s monogram lower center.

A superb Meder “d” (of “k”) 16th century/late lifetime impression, showing the two diagonal lines across the standing dog on the right, with excellent contrasts throughout.

Catalog: Bartsch 57; Dodgson 32; Panofsky 164; Hollstein 60; Meder 60.b; Strauss 34; Schoch/Mende/Scherbaum 32.d.

While out hunting with his falcon (which is barely visible between the top branches of the trees diving at its prey) the pagan Eustace, a general in the army of the Emperor Trajan, encountered the miraculous apparition of the Crucifix mounted between the antlers of a stag. He was immediately converted to Christianity, but on account of his relating the details of this incident to fellow disciples he was martyred by being burnt to death in a fiery oven.
The Old Master scholar Adam Bartsch wrote in 1808 that this engraving is “One of the best finished and most rare of Dürer’s works. At the same time it is the largest of his engravings. The Emperor Rudolph II ordered the plate to be gold plated.” In 1827 the scholar Heller wrote “St. Eustace” is “Dürer’s greatest engraving. It is beautifully rendered and complete in every detail. Nothing is omitted.” Heller adds, “The features of the saint are supposedly a likeness of the Emperor Maximillian I.” In 1861 the scholar Hausmann wrote, “The unusually large size of the plate appears to have caused difficulty in printing. Even some of the best impressions have some squeezed lines near the edges. In 1871 the scholar Retberg wrote, “Only those who scrutinize this print carefully will discern the tiny knight on horseback above the right arm of the saint.” In 1888 the scholar Koehler wrote about the engraving, unquestionably one of the five most important pieces of graphic artwork to have been created in the 16th century, “This being Dürer’s largest plate and the most minutely finished, the older writers praise it extravagantly.”
Dürer himself considered this print something of a show-piece, for he presented or sold it on six occasions while he was in the Netherlands in 1521. It is particularly striking for its detailed representation of nature, which is so profuse that the subject of the print, the conversion of St. Eustace, almost disappears. Giorgio Vasari in his Lives of the Painters, Sculptors and Architects of 1568, arguably the single most important piece of art criticism in recorded history, singled it out for particular praise and was especially admiring of the various dogs in their different poses. The dogs have been copied repeatedly by various artists from Parmigianino and Correggio, to the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne-Jones, who used two of the dogs in a cartoon for stained glass. In the reception and recognition of Dürer’s work the dogs of “St. Eustace” play an equivalent role to his much loved rhinoceros.