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

Death of Orpheus

Pen drawing, 289 x 225 mm
Kunsthalle, Hamburg

This drawing is probably derived from a painting by Andrea Mantegna, whose printed graphics Dürer copied. Mantegna in his turn was using Greco-Roman models. This landscape, the details of the drapery folds and the handling of the line in general are worked out in a quite independent fashion. The centre of the picture is the male nude in motion. According to the Metamorphoses by the classical author Ovid (43 B.C.-17/18 A.D.), Orpheus introduced homosexual love to Thrace and for that reason is beaten to death by two Thracian women during a bacchanal. The group of figures is placed before a central tree in which an open book with music is hanging. The classical singer's lyre is lying at his feet.

In the tree a banderole with legends: "Orfeus der erst puseran" (Orpheus, the first pederast). The woman at the left and the boy were used by Dürer a few years later in the engraving known as "Jealousy" (more correctly "Chastity and Unchastity").

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 7 minutes):
Cristoph Willibald Gluck: Orfeo, Act I, Orpheus' aria in G Major