A brilliantly colored illustration believed to be the work of Albrecht Dürer has been discovered in the pages of a book at Germany’s Oldenburg State Library. The book, a Greek volume printed by the Venetian printer and publisher Aldus Manutius in 1502, was presented to the public on Tuesday night.
It’s a small picture, measuring only 16.5 by 6 centimeters, and shows two cherubs atop mystical marine creatures whose tongues twist to form the coat of arms of the Nuremberg scholar Willibald Pirckheimer.
The book sat in the holdings of the library for 230 years before the illustration was spotted during a survey of the Aldinen Collection. The prodigious archive contains some 263 of Dürer’s works and is one of the most valuable repositories of early printing history in Western Europe.
A full investigation into the artworks is still forthcoming, but the library said it feels confident that it is a Dürer original.
Dürer, who died in 1528, was close friends with Pirckheimer. It’s 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 precisely described in [a] historical source of 1634 and thus the seventh Dürer miniature from this series that was rediscovered.”
The presentation was attended by Lower Saxony’s science minister, Björn Thümler, who called the discovery “sensational.”
The Dürer miniature, he continued, “proves that we in Lower Saxony house extraordinarily top-class collections and shows which undiscovered treasures are slumbering 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 artists of the German Renaissance, with a practice that spanned painting, drafting, and writing, though his most enduring achievement may have been in printmaking.
He voraciously absorbed the varied art traditions of Europe, often spending a year or more in its cultural capitals. Nuremberg was then a bright center for creative exchange. Because the city embraced the Protestant Reformation early on, it attracted theologians and scholars from throughout the continent. Dürer spent a formative period honing his craft amid Nuremberg’s intellectual milieu and presented those he respected most with portraits.