Albrecht Dürer, ‘The Small Woodcut Passion (B. 17-53; M., Holl. 125-161; S.M.S. 187-222)’, 1508-1510, Christie's Old Masters

The complete set of 36 woodcuts, 1508-10, without watermarks, all without text, mostly fine, clear and bright proof impressions before the text edition of 1511, printing very evenly and with great contrasts, five impressions probably after the text edition, also very good but with tiny gaps in the borderlines inked in, trimmed to or just outside the borderline, occassionally with thread margins, generally in very good condition.

The Small Woodcut Passion was designed and cut in a relatively short time, probably in the two years preceding its publication in 1511, the same year the Large Passion and the Life of the Virgin were issued, and like these it was published by Dürer himself. It is the most extensive of all his series, comprising 36 blocks, 34 of which have survived and are now in the British Museum. The English woodcutter John Thompson (1785-1866) examined the blocks, which are made from pear wood, and identified the work of four different woodcutters.

To various scenes from the Life of Christ and the Passion, Dürer added two images of the Fall of Man and the Expulsion from Paradise at the beginning, and of the Pentecost and the Last Judgement at the end of the series. He thereby put the Passion of Christ at the center of a larger, all-encompassing narrative of the Fall and Redemption of Mankind.

Dürer worked on the Small Woodcut Passion at the same time as the Engraved Passion (lot 36). Comparing fine impressions of the woodcut series with the engraved series, it becomes apparent how similar they are in the density of lines and the rich chiaroscuro-effects, and it is astonishing to see what Dürer could achieve on such a small scale.

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