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

The Wire-drawing Mill

c. 1489
Watercolour and gouache on paper, 286 x 426 mm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Along with Saint John's Church, this is among Dürer's earliest watercolours, dating either from 1489 or 1494. Inscribed `wire-drawing mill', it depicts a workshop which manufactured copper wire.

From a raised vantage point, our gaze passes over the large and small mills in the meadows on the banks of the River Pegnitz belonging to the city of Nuremberg. The buildings in the foreground are the Grossweiden Mill on the north bank of the River Pegnitz, near St John's Church. A mill wheel leans against one of the buildings. On the far side of the river is the Kleinweiden Mill. Beyond this are villages lying on the outskirts of Nuremberg and the mountains. Dürer has again lavished great care on some of the details, such as the distant houses. His colouring is reminiscent of Netherlandish landscapes, with brown tones in the foreground, greens in the middle ground and bluish mountains in the distance.

Although the detailed composition of the sheet still accords with Late Medieval workshop tradition, the fine glazes, produced with considerably thinned watercolours, already herald the freer brushstrokes of later watercolours. In this respect the sheet can be called a milestone in Dürer's development of the technique of watercolour painting.