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

Dream Vision

Watercolour on paper, 30 x 43 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

The watercolour and accompanying text describe an apocalyptic dream which Dürer had on the night of 7-8 June 1525. The picture depicts a landscape with scattered trees. An enormous column of water gushes down, spreading out near the ground and flooding, while other smaller columns of water start to fall from the heavens. The dream occurred during a period of great religious uncertainty, with the birth of the Reformation, and many people feared that a flood would destroy the world.

Below the watercolour Dürer wrote a description of his dream:

`In 1525, during the night between Wednesday and Thursday after Whitsuntide, I had this vision in my sleep, and saw how many great waters fell from heaven. The first struck the ground about four miles away from me with such a terrible force, enormous noise and splashing that it drowned the entire countryside. I was so greatly shocked at this that I awoke before the cloudburst. And the ensuing downpour was huge. Some of the waters fell some distance away and some close by. And they came from such a height that they seemed to fall at an equally slow pace. But the very first water that hit the ground so suddenly had fallen at such velocity, and was accompanied by wind and roaring so frightening, that when I awoke my whole body trembled and I could not recover for a long time. When I arose in the morning, I painted the above as I had seen it. May the Lord turn all things to the best.'

In the draft of his unpublished `Nourishment for Young Painters', dating from over a decade earlier, Dürer had written: `How often do I see great art in my sleep, but on waking cannot recall it; as soon as I awake, my memory forgets it.' But on this occasion, Dürer made great efforts to recall the dream and painstakingly recorded it in an image and words. The result is probably one of the most realistic early depictions of a scene accurately recalled from a dream, as opposed to more composed visions which had previously figured in European paintings and illuminated manuscripts.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.