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

The Holy Family with St John, The Magdalen and Nicodemus

c. 1512
Drypoint, 216 x 190 mm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

This print is somewhat reminiscent of the Virgin with the Dragonfly, which in turn was influenced by Dürer's only forerunner in the use of drypoint, the Housebook Master. A gentle play of light and shade enlivens the faces of the bystanders, while the Virgin, built of tiny flicks and scratches, has no particular contours at all. Here Dürer, for once, approaches the Leonardesque ideal of sfumato. This is technically the most successful of Dürer's drypoints, but it is remarkable how carelessly he has handled the composition in this instance. Except in a few limited impressions the face of the Virgin is crossed out. It has been assumed that Dürer himself did this out of dissatisfaction with the plate. There remains some doubt in this regard, however. Some of the impressions before the face was obliterated are on paper with the "City Gate" watermark, which, as far as can be determined, was not used during Dürer's lifetime.