Albrecht Dürer, ‘The Desperate Man (B. 70; M., Holl. 95; S.M.S. 79)’, ca. 1515, Christie's Old Masters

Etching, circa 1515, without watermark, a fine, early impression, before all rustmarks, printing with much selectively wiped tone, a minor printing flaw at the neck of the standing man and extending down to the shoulder of the kneeling man, trimmed to the subject on three sides and mostly outside the borderline below, a short repaired tear at upper right, some pale stains, otherwise in good condition.

The so-called Desperate Man is really a sheet of figure studies. Although Dürer hinted at rocks, a small tree and a distant landscape in the background, there is no consistent spatial relationship between the five figures, some of whom are based on drawings by the artist. The figure of the man seen in profile at left is closely related to a drawn portrait of Dürer's brother Endres, while the reclining female nude is related to the colored drawing of a nymph (W. 663). Despite the obvious disparity of the figures, art historians have tried to find a unifying theme. Panofsky suggested the figures of the sleeping nymph, the drinking satyr holding the jug, the sad, staring face of the old man and the writhing figure of the 'desperate man' could be representations of the four different forms of pathological melancholia: phlegmatic, sanguinic, melancholic and choleric.

The print appears to be an experiment with the etching technique, and it is woth noting that Dürer did not sign the plate with his monogram. The disadvantage of the etching technique lay in the use of iron instead of copper plates. As the iron oxidised the plates quickly developed rust marks which printed as dark, irregular patches. As Dürer himself had probably not intended this print - with its cryptic subject - to be widely distributed, he printed very few impressions. Fine lifetime impressions such as the present one, before rustmarks, with carefully printed tone and selectively wiped areas, are therefore extremely rare and sought after.

Unidentified, black number 102 in pen and ink recto (not in Lugt).

Unidentified, blue stamp letter S in a circle recto (L. 3578).

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