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

Adam and Eve

Details
ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528)
Adam and Eve
engraving, 1504, on laid paper, watermark Bull's Head (Meder 62), a very fine, early impression of the rare second state (of three), Meder IIa, printing very richly and softly, with great clarity and contrasts, the edges of the subject and sheet extremely skilfully made up
Sheet 251 x 193 mm.
Provenance
Pierre Mariette II (1634-1716), Paris (Lugt 1789), dated 1681.
Franz Gawet (1765-1847), Vienna (Lugt 1005, dated 1807; and Lugt 1069), acquired for 145 guilders; his sale, Artaria, Vienna, 9 December 1844 (and following days), lot 369 ('Avec des petites taches et quelques légeres restaurations, mais brillante épreuve.')
With Klipstein & Kornfeld, Bern.
Private Collection, Switzerland, acquired from the above around 1955; then by descent to the present owner.
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

Adam and Eve is undoubtedly one of Dürer's most celebrated engravings and one of the most widely reproduced - and hence most familiar - images of the Fall of Man. Yet to see a very fine impression in the original is an altogether different and exhilarating experience. The rendering of the subtle effects of light and shade on the beautifully sculpted bodies against the velvety black background of the forest, the slight nuances of skin colour between Adam and Eve, and the variety of different materials and surfaces - hair, feathers, fur, snake skin, tree barks, leaves and rocks - is astounding, and it almost beggars belief that this should have been achieved with the simple means of a copper plate, a sharp steel tool, ink and paper.
This is quite clearly a work of great ambition and confidence, and Dürer took an unusual amount of care in its creation. Several preparatory drawings survive (more than for any other print by Dürer) in public collections such as the British Museum, London, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Albertina, Vienna and the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York; in the latter a beautiful, complex study of the two figures on a blackened background (Winkler 333). Adam and Eve is also the only one of his prints to bear his full name and birthplace: ALBERT DVRER NORICUS FACIEBAT 1504 reads the plaque in a sober Latin script.
In 1505 Dürer embarked on his second journey to Venice, possibly to escape another outbreak of the plague in Nuremberg, and it is likely that he intended the print to be a show-piece for the Italian market, to demonstrate his talent and abilities and to attract commissions as a painter and printmaker. For this purpose, Dürer combined the virtues of Northern art, the painstaking realism and attention to detail for which the Italians admired the Flemish masters, with Italy's own artistic ideals of the Renaissance: disegno and the depiction of nudes of classical proportions.
Yet Dürer's Adam and Eve is more still than a stupendous formal exercise and a dazzling display of technical virtuosity. A precedent to his most mature prints, the three so-called 'Master Prints' (see lots 161, 162, 163 & 164), it is also a work of great symbolic and intellectual complexity. The entire composition is an image of duality and division. The Tree of Knowlegde separates Adam from Eve, and divides the image into two halves. Whilst Eve is associated with this tree, Adam grasps a branch of mountain ash, identified as the Tree of Life. The parrot and the serpent respectively symbolise wisdom and betrayal. The cat and mouse in the foreground form another pair of opposites as predator and prey, but death has not yet come into the world and they sit peacefully together.
Apart from Christian iconography, Dürer also alluded to contemporary humanist philosophy, and the other animals depicted are not just examples of God's creation in the Garden of Eden: the moose, the cow, the rabbit and the cat each respectively represent the melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine and the choleric temperaments. The theory of these 'four humours' as the ruling principles of the human spirit was widely debated amongst the educated at the time. The mountain goat however is a traditional symbol of lust and damnation. Far in the background behind Eve, it stands on the edge of the abyss, about to fall.
The present very fine example, previously in collection of the famous 18th century Parisian print publisher, dealer and collector Pierre Mariette II and the Viennese engraver Franz Gawet, is an impression of the rare second state of three, before a split in the trunk below Adam's left armpit appears on the plate. Two unfinished trial proof-states are known, the only impressions of which are in the Albertina and the British Museum. Of the completed plate, three states exist: the first state, with the 5 in the date 1504 engraved in reverse, is only known in an unique impression (Museum Otto Schäfer, Schweinfurt). In the second state, the 5 is corrected and the image prints just as the artist intended. Impressions of this state, such as the present one, are hence the earliest available, but come rarely to the market.

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