Albrecht Dürer, ‘The Holy Family with the Butterfly (B. 44; M., Holl. 142; S.M.S. 2)’, ca. 1495, Christie's Old Masters

Engraving, circa 1495, with a Bull's Head watermark fragment (M. 62), a very fine, rare early impression, printing with touches of burr on the monogram and elsewhere, many vertical wiping marks in the sky and at the lower sheet edge, with thread margins, in excellent condition.

The Holy Family with the Butterfly is the first and largest of Dürer's eleven engravings of the Virgin and Child or the Holy Family. It is also the first appearance of an extensive landscape that would become one of his most original contributions to European printmaking. Despite the fact that the young artist had yet to master the spatial relations between the foreground and background, it is still an extremely pleasing prospect.

The insect at the lower right, which gave the title of this print, has been the subject of much debate and has alternately been identified as a butterfly, a dragonfly, a locust and a praying mantis, with the symbolic meaning in relation to the Virgin changing accordingly.

It is interesting to note that the print marks the first appearance of his monogram. Yet his trademark is not fully developed; he still uses a small gothic 'd' rather than the capital Latin 'D' seen subsequently. As his confidence grew, so did his monogram.

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