Albrecht Dürer, ‘The Martyrdom of Saint John, from: The Apocalypse (B. 61; M., Holl. 164; S.M.S. 112)’, ca. 1496-97, Christie's Old Masters

Woodcut, circa 1496/97, watermark Imperial Orb (M. 53), a brilliant, rich, strong and even impression, a proof before the German and Latin text editions of 1498, trimmed on or to the borderline, printing with a partly uninked horizontal printer's crease in the lower part of the subject, in excellent condition.

What does he not express in monochromes, that is in black lines? Shade, light, radiance, projections, depressions... He even depicts which cannot be depicted: fire; rays of light; thunderstorms; sheet lightning; thunderbolts ... characters and emotions ... These things he places before your eyes by the most felicitous lines, black ones at that, in such manner that, were you to spread pigments, you would injure the work. (Erasmus of Rotterdam, cited in: Giulia Bartrum, Albrecht Dürer and His Legacy: The Graphic Work of a Renaissance Artist, Princeton University Press, 2003, p. 13.)

The Apocalypse, Dürer's series of 16 woodcuts on the Revelations of Saint John, appeared two years before 1500, at a time when many thought the Last Judgment imminent. From the beginning it was praised for its innovative approach, both artistically and technically. With it Dürer not only transformed the medium, but pushed the boundaries of what had hitherto been thought possible in any medium. It was the first book in history to be created and published by an artist himself, and in creating it Dürer relied on the support and experience of his godfather Anton Koberger. Koberger was then the most important printer and publisher in Germany, whose business consisted of his Nuremberg workshop, where he employed over one hundred and fifty printers, journeymen and apprentices working on 24 printing presses, as well as several distribution offices in Germany and elsewhere.

The Apocalypse was a tremendous popular and critical success. By publishing it in both Latin and German, Dürer made it accessible to the widest possible audience and through his agents he distributed it throughout Germany and abroad.

Friedrich August II, King of Saxony (1797-1854), Dresden (L. 971).

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