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


ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528)
on laid paper, watermark Anchor in a Circle (Meder 171)
a very fine, sharp and clear impression from the First Edition (of eight)
printed and published by the artist
Block & Sheet 212 x 300 mm.
August Artaria (1807-1893), Vienna (Lugt 33); his posthumous sale, Artaria & Co., Vienna, 6-13 May 1896, lot 229 ('Vorzüglicher Abdruck des ersten Zustandes, vor allen Plattensprüngen, auf Papier mit dem Anker im Kreis (H. 30), ohne den Text. Selten.') (Kr. 29; to Kennedy).
Kennedy Galleries, New York (with their stocknumber a26988(?) in pencil verso), by whom acquired at the above sale.
Paul J. Sachs (1878-1965), New York and Cambridge, Mass. (Lugt 2091).
Kunsthandel Helmut Rumbler, Frankfurt am Main.
Acquired from the above on 12 December 1989, and thence by descent to the present owners.
A. von Bartsch, Le Peintre Graveur, Vienna, vol. VII, 1808, no. 136, p. 147.
J. Meder, Dürer-Katalog, Vienna, 1932, no. 273.
W. L. Strauss, ed., The Illustrated Bartsch, New York, vol. X, 1981, no. 336, pp. 414-416 (another impression illustrated).
R. Schoch, M. Mende & A. Scherbaum, Albrecht Dürer, Das druckgraphische Werk, Munich, vol. II, 2002, (Holzschnitte und Holzschnittfolgen), no. 241, pp. 420-424 (another impression illustrated).


E. Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer, New Jersey, 1943, p. 192.
G. Bartrum, German Renaissance Prints, exh. cat., London, 1995, no. 35, pp. 49 & 50 (another impression illustrated).
G. Bartrum, Dürer and his Legacy, exh. cat., London, 2002, no. 243 (another impression illustrated).
S. Dackerman, ‘Dürer’s Indexical Fantasy: The Rhinoceros and Printmaking, in Prints and the Pursuit of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, London, 2011, no. 35, pp. 164-183 (another impression illustrated).
J. Sander, ed., Albrecht Dürer: His Art in Context, exh. cat., Frankfurt am Main, 2013, no. 12.8, pp. 306 & 307 (another impression illustrated).

Brought to you by

Keith Gill
Keith Gill Head of Department

Lot Essay

Perhaps no other creature captivated the interest and imagination of Albrecht Dürer and his contemporaries more than the rhinoceros. The animal had not set foot in Europe since the 3rd century AD., and was known only from medieval bestiaries and Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historiae. The aura of myth and curiosity was magnified by legends about its ferocity, intellect and the alleged healing power of its distinctive horn. One can imagine the sensation caused by the arrival of a living specimen at the menagerie of Ribeira Palace in Lisbon, on 20 May 1515. It had been sent as a diplomatic present from Sultan Muzafar of Cambay (now Gujarat), to the King of Portugal, Emanuel I. After a public fight was arranged between the rhinoceros and its supposed enemy, the elephant, the King decided to gift it to Pope Leo X, in the hope of receiving some privileges for the Portuguese colonies in India. In December of that year, a ship with the animal on board sailed towards Rome, stopping by an island near Marseilles, for it to be admired by the King of France. Sadly, the ship sunk shortly after in the Gulf of Genoa. It was rumoured that the animal’s carcass was salvaged and stuffed, and eventually brought to the Vatican, but the records of its arrival are, in fact, inconclusive.
Dürer himself never saw a rhinoceros in any form, alive or dead, but images and descriptions of it travelled swiftly across all of Europe. Valentin Ferdinand, a Moravian printer who had settled in Lisbon, sent a letter with a drawing to a friend in Nuremberg. Although Ferdinand’s first-hand account and sketch have not survived, his correspondence must have inspired Dürer to prepare a print of the now famous creature. He made a preparatory drawing for a woodcut, which is today at the British Museum in London (inv. no. SL,5218.161). The drawing, with the animal facing left, neatly titled RHINOCERON and dated 1515, is inscribed at the bottom of the sheet, presumably with a direct transcription of the report sent from Portugal.
Dürer’s creature is by no means a realistic visualisation of the animal. In Erwin Panofsky’s words, the artist ‘stylized the creature, bizarre in itself, into a combination of scales, laminae and shells, suggesting a fantastically shaped and patterned suit of armor’ (E. Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer, Princeton, NJ, 1943, 2005, p. 192) Several versions of the subject were made by other artists in 1515 and the following years, yet it was Dürer’s version – through technical virtuosity, creative imagination, and an efficient production and distribution system – that became the definitive depiction of the rhinoceros for centuries to come – and one of the most famous images of European printmaking.
The woodcut of the beast, barely contained by the borderlines of the block, was a tremendous success. Over the course of more than a century, it was printed in no fewer than eight editions. The printing block was still around in 1620, when it was re-printed in Amsterdam as a chiaroscuro woodcut, with the addition of a colour block.
The Rhinocerus served as the model for illustrations of the species in the scientific literature – such as Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia (1544) or Conrad Gessner’s Historiae Animalium (1551) – as late as the end of the 18th century. Moreover, it inspired – and misled – artists and artisans in the creation of countless objects of fine and decorative arts, from sculpture to furniture, tapestries, and all manner of ornamental objects. Thus, when Johann Gottlieb Kirchner, the first sculptor permanently employed as a modeler at the celebrated Meissen porcelain manufactory, was appointed the task of creating a whole menagerie of porcelain animals for the so-called ‘Japanisches Palais’ in Dresden, he inevitably turned to Albrecht Dürer’s fanciful depiction as a model for his large-scale ceramic rhinoceros.
Published as a broadsheet and printed in considerable numbers, the primary function of the woodcut was informative rather than artistic. As such, it was hugely popular and would have been handled and passed around so much that only very few sheets survived, and impressions of the Rhinocerus from the first edition are extremely rare. The present sheet, although lacking the letterpress text above, bears the watermark Anchor in a Circle and is undoubtedly from the first and only lifetime edition. It is a beautifully sharp and even example, before the inevitable deterioration of the woodblock in the later editions.

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