The Great Triumphal Chariot

The complete woodcut printed from eight blocks, 1518-22, on eight sheets, watermark Single Cross on Tripod (M. 146), very fine, even impressions from the Second Edition, published in 1523, with Latin text, the sheets loose, the complete subjects and text, plates B-H with an blank margin at left (where the sheets were to be joined), with several horizontal and vertical folds across the sheets, various repaired tears and made-up paper losses, mostly remargined below, some staining and foxing.

In its beginnings, Dürer's Great Triumphal Chariot of Maximilian I formed part of a project for a truly monumental woodcut of a triumphal procession, consisting of about two hundred blocks, which involved several workshops and numerous artists, including Albrecht Altdorfer, Dürer himself and his pupil Hans Springinklee, Hans Burgkmair, Leonard Beck and others. It was the Emperor himself, well aware of the possibilities of distribution and the political power of prints, who devised the idea of large printed triumph as part of an even larger program of 'propaganda' prints to celebrate and commemorate his reign.

Inspired by earlier, actual victorious entries, such as those of King Louis XII of France in Italy, by Mantegna's Triumph of Caesar, and ultimately by Roman stone reliefs of triumphal processions spiraling around column's such as Trajan's Column, a printed depiction of an idealized, yet contemporary triumphal procession served to demonstrate a continuity between the Roman Empire of old and the 'Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation' and to thereby legitimize Maximilian's claim to the Imperial crown.

Dürer and his workshop were entrusted with the centre piece of this enormous project, the depiction of the Emperor and his immediate entourage. The project however must have proofed impossible to coordinate and in the end was never completed. Dürer eventually decided to complete The Great Triumphal Chariot as a separate work and, together with his friend Willibald Pirckheimer, developed his own pictorial program, which showed the Emperor as an ideal prince, accompanied by a host of allegorical figures representing the virtues, with the wheels of his splendid chariot representing the foundations of his reign: Magnificentia, Dignitas, Gloria, Honor.

The Chariot is a feat of bravura woodcutting, worthy the grandness of its subject, yet due to its scale and the ephemeral nature of the project, very few sets seems to have been preserved and complete, early examples are extremely rare.

Signature: the complete woodcut printed from eight blocks, 1518-22, on eight sheets, watermark Single Cross on Tripod (M. 146), very fine, even impressions from the Second Edition, published in 1523, with Latin text, the sheets loose, the complete subjects and text, plates B-H with an blank margin at left (where the sheets were to be joined), with several horizontal and vertical folds across the sheets, various repaired tears and made-up paper losses, mostly remargined below, some staining and foxing

Larry Silver and Elizabeth Wyckoff, Grand Scale, Monumental Prints in the Age of Dürer and Titian, Davis Museum and Cultural Centre, Wellesley College (exh. Cat.), Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008, p. 18-23

K. F. F. von Nagler (1770-1846), Bavaria and Berlin (L. 2529); the collection sold in 1835 to the Prussian State.

Kupferstichkabinett der Staatlichen Museen, Berlin (L. 1606); acquired from the above; with their deaccession stamp (L. 2482); sold at Amsler & Ruthardt, Berlin, 4 May 1903, lot 780 (Mk 860).

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

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