Albrecht Dürer, ‘The Abduction of Proserpina (B. 72; M., Holl. 67; S.M.S. 83)’, 1516, Christie's Old Masters

Etching, 1516, watermark Anchor in a Circle (M. 171), a fine Meder a impression, just beginning to show traces of rust on the woman's forehead, before all other rustmarks, trimmed on or just inside the platemark but retaining a fillet of blank paper outside the borderline on all sides, in very good condition.

The reading of this enigmatic etching as the Abduction of Proserpina is still the most plausible one, although Dürer - as so often - strayed from the textual and iconographic tradition. According to Homer and Ovid, Proserpina or Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, was abducted by Pluto on his chariot and taken to the underworld. In Dürer's version however, a woman is carried away by a naked wild man on a unicorn. In his engraving Coat of Arms with a Skull (lot 24) the wild man is clearly associated with Death, and the identification of the abductor as Pluto is therefore quite plausible. The unicorn as a symbol of lust is also quite fitting as the vehicle of the abduction, although this is entirely Dürer's invention. As Rainer Schoch has put it, Dürer demonized classical antique imagery by adding darker, medieval elements and ideas.

The present work is of course reminiscent of the Seamonster (lot 23). But whereas in that engraving - in character with the more elegant and precise medium - the victim expresses nothing more than boredom as she is regally carried off to sea, the abduction here is shown as an act of violence, full of movement and drama.

Dr. Gottfried Eissler (1862-1924), Vienna (L. 805b); his sale, C. G. Boerner, Leipzig, 8-10 November 1921, lot 276.

With Colnaghi's, London (with their stocknumber C. 8111 in pencil verso); purchased in 1921, probably at the above sale.

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