This print was probably a reaction to an engraving of the same subject by Jacopo de' Barbari. In 1500 de' Barbari came from Venice to Nuremberg, where he lived and worked for three years. The Italian view of those who dwelt north of the Alps can be gauged by the nickname his countrymen gave him as a result: Jacob of the Barbarians. His version of Apollo and Diana is a cosmic one, with them standing on a celestial sphere as personifications of the sun and the moon. Dürer's treatment is, however, much more prosaic. The slightly squat figure of Diana sits offering a handful of grass to a deer, and Apollo stands on firm ground, preparing to shoot an arrow. Apart from their nudity and their attributes - the bow and the deer - there is little to indicate that these figures are gods. It was in the depiction of classical, ideal nudes, not in the expression of certain ideas that Dürer competed with the Italian.
The mastery of ideal proportion must been on Dürer's mind at the time as he was about to embark on his most ambitious print so far- Adam and Eve (lot 61). How closely related the two prints were is demonstrated by a drawing in the British Museum (W. 261). Originally intended as Apollo, Dürer went on to use this study of a male nude for his figure of Adam.