ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528)
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ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528)

The Nativity (Christmas)

Details
ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528)
The Nativity (Christmas)
engraving, 1504, on laid paper, watermark Bull's Head (Meder 62), a very fine Meder b impression, printing with a very subtle plate tone and inky plate edges in places, trimmed to or just outside the platemark, with thread margins in places, in very good condition
Plate 187 x 121 mm.
Sheet 188 x 122 mm.
Provenance
Dr Wilhelm August Ackermann (1793-1865), Lübeck and Dresden (Lugt 791); his sale, R. Weigel, Leipzig, 29 March 1853, lot 107 ('köstlicher Druck und wohlerhalten') (Mk. 34; to Weber).
Hermann Weber (1817-1854), Cologne, Brussels & Bonn (see Lugt 1383, without his mark).
With Gilhofer & Ranschburg, Lucerne.
Carl Hirschler (1871-1941) & Rose Hirschler (née Dreyfus), Amsterdam & Haarlem (Lugt 633a); then by descent.
With C. G. Boerner, Düsseldorf (Neue Lagerliste 132 (2013), no. 5).
Acquired from the above by the present owners in 2013.
Literature
Bartsch 2; Meder, Hollstein 2; Schoch Mende Scherbaum 40
Exhibited
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans, Prentkunst van Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, Israhel van Meckenem - Uit eene particuliere verzameling, 1955, no. 42.
Special notice

This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Lot Essay

In this exquisite little engraving of 1504, created the same year as Adam and Eve (see the following lot), Dürer placed the scene of the Birth of Christ within the tight architectual setting of a courtyard and a dilapidated timber-framed house. By revisting the very similar architecture and scene of the central panel of his Paumgartner Altarpiece (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), completed only the previous year, he achieved the depiction of a truly unified space and a convincing central perspective for the first time in the medium of engraving. According to Panofsky (The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer, 1943 [2005 reprint], p. 84-85), while Adam & Eve is a model of human beauty, the Nativity ('Weynachten', as the artist called it in his diary of 1520) is a model of perspective.
The Nativity scene itself is relegated in to a small part of the foreground under the colonade of the rustic building. Mary is kneeling in adoration before the Christ Child, while Joseph is collecting water from the well in the courtyard. Only one other human figure can be seen: a shepherd kneels in prayer further in the background at the foot of the stairs to the house. Behind him, in a ramshackle wooden stable, we see the ox and the donkey. In the distance, through the arched gateway, as the central vanishing point of the composition, Dürer has depicted the Angel of the Annunciation to the Shepherds in minute detail.
The true protagonist of the scene, however - therein unlike any other work in Dürer's printed oeuvre, is the architecture. The 'stage' dominates the scene, and is composed of contrasting elements which convey a message of an ending and a new beginning. Very much in the tradition of 15th century Nativity scenes, a rich iconography is hidden under the materiality of the pictorial elements: the well and the water pitcher allude to the purity of the Virgin Mary and the sacrament of the baptism. The derelict state of the buildings - Romanesque at right and vernacular Southern German at left - and the vegetation sprouting from the ruins, as well as the newborn Christ, signify the Old and the New Covenant. The traditional symbols are, however, masterfully integrated into a scientifically constructed pictorial space - the medieval faith mediated by the rationalism of the Renaissance.
Dürer certainly took pleasure in composing and constructing the setting with such accuracy and attention to detail. Yet there seems to be another reason for the apparent marginality of the figures. By reducing the scale of the scene - one of the most important events of Christianity - and locating it in surroundings reminiscent of the courtyard of a typical Nuremberg house of his time, Dürer emphasized the essential meaning of the birth of Christ; his humanity and humility, and the relevance of the event to all mankind.

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