Albrecht Dürer, ‘Ulrich Varnbüler (B. 150; H., Holl., S.M.S. 256)’, 1522, Christie's Old Masters

Chiaroscuro woodcut printed from three blocks in black, olive-green and ochre-green, 1522, watermark Circle with two Arcs and a Flourish (M. 258), a very impressive Meder IIIa impression, well registered, printing with strong relief, the colours particularly fresh, trimmed just outside the borderline, with the address of W. Janssen (Blaeu) trimmed off at the lower edge, a short printer's crease with associated paper split at the upper right corner, a small abrasion on the collar, an un-inked printer's crease in the cartouche at right, generally in excellent, fresh condition.

Ulrich Varnbüler (1474-1544) was Imperial Councilor and Chancellor to Archduke Ferdinand I, King of Bohemia and Hungary. He became a close friend of both Dürer and Willibald Pirckheimer in about 1515. In 1519 Varnbüler issued a translation of Erasmus's tract Dulce bellum inexperto and in 1522, the year of Dürer's woodcut, Pirckheimer dedicated a Latin translation of Lucian's dialogue Navis sue vota to Varnbüler. Dürer's dedication on the present woodcut reads Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg wishes to make known to posterity and to honor by this likeness his dearest friend Ulrich, surnamed Varnbüler, confidential and principal secretary to the Imperial Roman Government. Dürer's preparatory charcoal drawing for the woodcut is in the Albertina, Vienna (W. 908).

No contemporary color impressions of the woodcut are recorded. As part of a Dürer 'renaissance' in the Netherlands in the late 16th century, Hendrik Hondius issued impressions of the line block around 1600. The block then passed to Willem Janssen (Blaeu), who cut two additional blocks and printed chiaroscuro impressions sometime after 1620.

Strauss records eleven chiaroscuro impressions of this woodcut in museum collections.

Duke of Devonshire, Chatsworth, Derbyshire (cf. L. 718 & 719); Christie's, London, Old Master Prints from Chatsworth, 5 December 1985, lot 22 (£15,000).

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