DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg; or, the Great Cardinal

Engraving, 174 x 127 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"Before I became ill this year I sent an engraved copper plate to Your Electoral Grace with your portrait together with five hundred impressions thereof. Finding no acknowledgment of this in Your Grace's letter, I fear that either the portrait did not please Your Grace - this would sadden me, as my diligence would have had poor results - or else, I fear that it may not have reached Your Grace at all. I beg Your Grace for a gracious reply." Thus we have in Dürer's own words the history of this engraving.

The fact that Dürer sent five hundred copies to the Cardinal, all produced at the same time, explains the uniform quality of so many impressions found in various collections. All these have the identical watermark, a small jug. This engraving is based on a new preparatory drawing that probably dates from the Diet of Nuremberg, 1522/23. The Cardinal had gained weight since the earlier portrait (The Small Cardinal) he had wild, protruding eyes, a bulbous mouth and layers of fat on chin and cheeks. Dürer offset the predominant lower part of the face with a large cap. It suggests that beneath it a large impressive head is to be found. In actuality that was not the case. Dürer used utmost discretion in the treatment of the physiological details without denying the monstrous reality. It is Dürer's most interesting utilization of a profile.

In contrast with the Small Cardinal, and in accordance with other late portrait engravings, this portrait has depth and substance. It is treated as a real tablet, carved and framed after the fashion of Roman tombstones, which were common in Germany, as in Italy and France.