A brilliantly colored illustration believed to be the work of Albrecht Dürer has been discovered within the pages of a book at the State Library of Oldenburg in Germany. The book, a Greek volume printed by the Venetian printer and publisher Aldus Manutius in 1502, was presented to the public Tuesday night.
It’s a small image, measuring just 16.5 by 6 centimeters, and shows two cherubs atop mystical sea creatures whose tongues twist to form the coat of arms of Nuremberg scholar Willibald Pirckheimer.
The book sat in library holdings for 230 years before the illustration was spotted during a survey of the Aldinen collection. The prodigious archive contains some 263 works by Dürer and is one of the most valuable repositories in the history of early printing in Western Europe.
A full investigation of the artwork is yet to come, but the library has said it is convinced it is an original by Dürer.
Dürer, who died in 1528, was a close friend of Pirckheimer. It is known that 14 books containing miniatures by the artist were sold to a Dutch collector by Pirckheimer’s heirs in 1634. According to the library, the “Oldenburg book painting is accurately described in [a] historical source from 1634 and thus the seventh Dürer miniature of this series which has been rediscovered.
The presentation was attended by Lower Saxony’s science minister, Björn Thümler, who described the discovery as “sensational”.
Dürer’s miniature, he continued, “proves that we in Lower Saxony house extraordinarily first-rate collections and exhibits whose undiscovered treasures slumber in our libraries.” There is still a lot of potential here, for example for research cooperation between libraries and universities.
Dürer was the most important and versatile artist of the German Renaissance, with a practice that spanned painting, drawing, and writing, although his most enduring achievement may have been printmaking.
He voraciously absorbed the varied artistic traditions of Europe, often spending a year or more in its cultural capitals. Nuremberg was then a brilliant center of creative exchange. Because the city embraced the Protestant Reformation early on, it attracted theologians and scholars from across the continent. Dürer spent a formative period honing his craft in the intellectual milieu of Nuremberg and presented those he respected most with portraits.