• Old Master Prints auction at Christies

    Sale 7781

    Old Master Prints

    8 December 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 12

    Albrecht Dürer

    Hercules (B. 73; M., Holl. 63; S.M.S. 22)

    Price Realised  


    Albrecht Dürer
    Hercules (B. 73; M., Holl. 63; S.M.S. 22)
    engraving, circa 1498, without watermark, a fine Meder II a impression (the first, unfinished state only survives in two impressions, in Vienna and Berlin), before the scratch on the right calf of Hercules and before the horizontal and vertical lines across the jaw bone, printing with great clarity and good contrasts, trimmed to or on the borderline on three sides and to the subject above, two small stains near the monogram, a tiny rustmark at Hercules' left shoulder blade, pale mottled foxing, otherwise in good condition, framed
    S. 320 x 221 mm.

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    After much debate, and having borne various titles such as The Effects of Jealousy and The Great Satyr, Erwin Panofsky has most convincingly identified the subject of this engraving as Hercules at the Crossroads. As related by Prodikos and Xenophon, the young Hercules has to choose between a life of Virtue or one of Vice. In Dürer's depiction Hercules' attitude is difficult to decipher, and it is unclear whether he fights on the side of Virtue, here personified by the standing woman wielding a club, or is defending the sinful couple of the woman and the satyr. It is also unclear what the meaning of the putto with a songbird fleeing to the right is, or of the hero's somewhat buffoonish headdress made with horns and a cockerel. Dürer's main interest seems to have been a formal and technical one, and he utilised various figure compositions from Italian sources.

    The figures of the woman with the club and the putto are derived from an earlier drawing of the Death of Orpheus (W. 58), inscribed by Dürer "Orfeus, der erst puseran" ('Orpheus, the first pederast'). It is possible that the present engraving was done is a similar, satirical spirit, mocking the moral superiority of the heroes of antiquity.

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    Initials K.K (not in Lugt).
    With C. G. Boerner, Düsseldorf (according to a label on the reverse of the frame).