Albrecht Dürer, ‘The Small Horse’, 1505, Galerie d'Orsay

Trimmed down to the platemark on all four sides, otherwise in excellent condition.
Older commentators thought that Perseus or Mercury was pictured in this engraving, but, as Moriz Thausing, director of the Albertina, asked in 1876, what has Mercury to do with a horse? According to Hans Tietze in 1928, this print is solely intended to demonstrate the proportion of a horse based on theoretical construction. In 1923 J. Kurthen determined that it is based on a drawing of 1503 but constructed on the basis of nine squares in a strictly geometrical system. In 1943 Erwin Panofsky explains that the “Small Horse” is “presented in pure side elevation to reveal its exquisite proportions, set out against a heavy and receding barrel vault, and therefore looks all the more slender and elegant in comparison. Compared to the “Large Horse” it may well be meant to signify animal sensuality restrained by the higher powers of the intellect and the flame bursting forth from the vase is no less a symbol of illuminating reason. The proportions and the pig-snouted head are unmistakably Leonardesque.” Leonardo da Vinci had made extensive studies of horses in the Milan stables of Galeazzo da San Severino. His manuscripts were lost when the French occupied the city in 1499. Yet some of the material must have reached Dürer, perhaps in 1502 when Galeazzo visited Nuremberg, where he spent many weeks at the house of Dürer’s friend Willibald Pirckheimer. Dürer too planned to publish a book on the proportions of the horse. His notes disappeared under mysterious circumstances mentioned by Camerarius in the introduction to the posthumous Latin edition of Dürer’s Four Books on Human Proportions, 1532.

Signature: Signed in the plate with the artist’s monogram on the block lower center.

Walter L. Strauss, The Complete Engravings & Drypoints of Albrecht Dürer, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1972, no. 44, p. 95 (ill.); Giulia Bartrum, Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy: The Graphic Work of a Renaissance Artist, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, no. 180, p. 229 (ill.); Larry Silver and Jeffrey Chipps Smith, The Essential Dürer, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2010, p. 119.

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