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


Engraving, 183 x 120 mm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

On August 20, 1520, Dürer recorded in his diary: "I also gave the factor of Portugal a St Anthony, Weynachten and The Cross." This is the only time the present print is mentioned by Dürer. It is, in fact, an architectural study; the figures seem quite subordinate to the structures. Although it is clearly designed with a single vanishing point, the eye of the beholder is retarded by the overabundance of detail from following the lines of perspective. The result is a mood of movement in quietude. The scene is not so much a `presentation' to the observer, as it is an opportunity to `eavesdrop' on what is taking place. The eye is drawn to the light area beyond the archway where an angel descends to deliver the good tidings of a new time.

On the terrace of a partly ruined half timbered building, the Mother of God is kneeling in prayer before the Christ Child. The form of a praying shepherd can be seen behind, and Joseph, apparently unmoved by the holy events, is fetching water from the well. While the ruin is a sign of the Old Covenant, the sprouting plants and newborn Christ Child are signs of the New Covenant. The well and water jug refer to the virginity of Mary and the sacrament of baptism.

This engraving is a restatement of the central panel of Dürer's Paumgartner Altarpiece, finished shortly before. The prominent location of the date is quite similar to the way the tablet is suspended in the Madonna on a Grassy Bench. It suggests that both of these prints may also have served as New Year's greetings. In Dürer's time the first day of the year was celebrated on Christmas Day.