St. Anthony Reading, 1519

durerstanthony

Albrecht Dürer
1471 – Nuremberg – 1528

St. Anthony Reading 1519

engraving; 99 x 143 mm (3 7/8 inches x 5 5/8 inches)

Bartsch 58; Meder 51 a (of d); Schoch/Mende/Scherbaum 87

provenance
Pierre Mariette, Paris (Lugt 1789, with the date “1669”)

Jules Meunier, Lyon (Lugt 1810, signed, annotated “Lyon” and dated “1825”);

sale, J.M. Heberle/H. Lempertz, Cologne, April 15–23, 1857

Paul von Baldinger-Seidenberg, Stuttgart (Lugt 212);

his sale, H.G. Gutekunst, Stuttgart, May 7–11, 1912, lot 319, described as: “Brillanter Abdruck. Sehr selten.”

Gilhofer & Ranschburg, Lucerne

Carl and Rose Hirschler, née Dreyfus, Haarlem (Lugt 633a), acquired November 1924; thence by descent

A very fine, silvery impression; trimmed on the platemark; in fine condition.

The angular, almost “cubistic” grouping of houses clustered on the hill in the background is based on the pen-and-ink drawing Pupila augusta, a sheet usually dated to ca. 1495–96 (but bearing the date “1516” in a later hand) at Windsor. It combines elements from the artist’s views of Trent, Innsbruck, and Nuremberg that date from Dürer’s first journey to Italy. It also reappears in the background of the Feast of the Rose Garlands that Dürer painted during his stay in Venice in 1506. This led Charles Talbot to suggest that the undated Windsor drawing might have only been executed in 1505.

The cityscape in the drawing is the same size as it is in the print. Eduard Flechsig therefore proposed that Dürer began a print after the Pupila Augusta drawing that might have served as a pendant to his Sea Monster (Meder 66) but then abandoned it. After cutting the plate down two decades later, Dürer then completed the smaller St. Anthony print.

One argument against this theory, however, is the astonishing subtlety of the burin work in this print. Dürer barely relies any longer on the strong contrast between areas of light and shade that characterize his earlier prints (engravings as well as woodcuts). He now substitutes those contrasts with a wide, gradual range of grays to create the overall silvery appearance evident in the finest impressions of his later prints.

Panofsky points out that the St. Anthony is “the only late engraving in which the scenery plays a major part, and indeed almost dominates the composition.” In the Pupila Augusta drawing as well as in the Feast of the Rose Garlands altarpiece, the cityscape remained a backdrop, relegated to the far distance. “In the St. Anthony engraving, however, it is brought up to the center of the stage—so close, in fact, that Dürer felt the need to introducing a ‘repoussoir’ in the shape of a slender cross-staff—and it has the nearness, sharpness and palpability of an architect’s model. One might say that Dürer did not devise an architectural setting for a contemplated St. Anthony, but rather invented a St. Anthony for an architectural setting already on hand—a setting which had been available for almost a quarter of a century but had remained undiscovered as a ‘cubistic’ possibility until the master had developed a ‘cubistic’ mode of vision.” Panofsky describes how the city on the hilltop in the background “is exclusively composed of such clean-cut stereometrical solids as prisms, cubes, pyramids and cylinders which coalesce and interpenetrate so as to bring to mind a cluster of crystals.” And while he cautions “against interpreting the term ‘cubistic’ according to the usage of today,” he points to the common ground between modern “cubism” and Dürer’s pictorial language: “both are not only a matter of aesthetic preference or ‘taste’ but reflect a reasoned theory. There is, however, this difference: that Dürer’s theory, unlike the modern one, was intended, not as a justification for breaking away from what is commonly understood by ‘reality’ but, on the contrary, as an aid to clarifying and mastering it”.