Albrecht Dürer, ‘Four naked Women (B. 75; M., Holl. 69; S.M.S. 17)’, 1497, Christie's Old Masters

Engraving, 1497, without watermark, a fine, early impression, probably Meder a, printing with burr and tone in the sphere and elsewhere, trimmed inside the platemark but retaining a fillet of blank paper in places outside the borderline, a few tiny nicks at the sheet edges, otherwise in good condition.

Undoubtedly a meditation on lust and death, this engraving remains one of the most enigmatic of all of Dürer's prints. Who are these women? Witches, whores or goddesses? Are they allegories of the Four Seasons or the Four Temperaments? The interpretations are manifold and none are entirely convincing. The devil and the flames rushing up the staircase support the traditional reading of the women as witches. A near contemporary copy by Nicoletto da Modena identifies the subject as the Judgment of Paris. If this were the case the women would be Juno, Minerva, Venus and Discordia. But whose skull is lying on the floor? Why do they stand on different levels of the room? What are they doing with their hands, out of sight? And, most perplexingly, what is the significance of the ball hanging from the ceiling and what does the inscription OHG stand for? The mysterious ball also bears the date 1497, the earliest to appear on any of Dürer's prints.

Whatever the subject may be, artistically the depiction of large female nudes was new and daring in northern art, and perhaps Dürer was simply seeking an allegorical, mythological or literary justification for what was essentially a celebration of the female form.

About Albrecht Dürer

Considered one of the foremost artists of the Renaissance period, Albrecht Dürer’s extensive work in printmaking transformed the categorization of the medium from craft to fine art. Often depicting religious subjects, Dürer’s woodcuts and engravings demonstrated unprecedented technical skill, tonal variation, and compositional sophistication. Dürer theorized extensively on linear perspective and anatomical proportion, concerns that were articulated in a vast body of written work as well as in his paintings and prints. Dürer’s skill earned him the role of court artist for Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I and Charles V, under whom he created a number of paintings and altarpieces. Dürer’s series of self-portraits, created throughout his career, represent some of his most iconic works.

German, 1471-1528, Nuremberg, Germany, based in Nuremberg, Germany