The Dream of the Doctor (The Temptation of the Idler)

Albrecht Dürer
The Dream of the Doctor (The Temptation of the Idler)

An original Albrecht Dürer engraving.


Original engraving printed in black ink on laid paper

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

An excellent, evenly printed late 16th century Meder “f” impression, showing fine contrast throughout.

Catalog: Bartsch 76; Meder 70.f; Hollstein 70; Dodgson 28; Strauss 22; Schoch/Mende/Scherbaum 18.

The curious subject of this engraving is linked to contemporary proverbs and literature. An elderly man is asleep, his head resting on comfortable cushions next to a large warm stove. His inactivity denotes the sin of idleness, or sloth, as illustrated in a proverb of the day, “idling is the pillow of the devil.” In Sebastian Brandt’s Ship of Fools (Das Narrenschiff, Basel, 1494), which includes some woodcut illustrations that have been attributed to the young Dürer, an idler is described as being open to temptation:
No one is fond of a sluggard in his house
Any more than a hibernating mouse.
To sleep by day and sleep by night,
To sit by the stove is his delight.
The Evil One quite soon takes heed
And quickly sows his evil seed.
According to medieval theology, laziness begets lewdness and the viceful temptations of luxury. Thus, the emblematic, sturdy apparition of the naked woman and the demon using a bellows to puff lustful fantasies into the ear of the dozing idler, making him dream of love while the fumbling Eros tries to raise himself on stilts. That laziness begets sin is reminded also by the “warmed-over apple of temptation,” i.e. a “baked apple” on a small shelf on the stove.