Elegantly twisting herself to the left, the nude young woman in this drawing appears to be studying the drapery cascading down from the long staff she holds at her side. The figure is composed of fine and closely spaced lines that become increasingly dense and crosshatched in the shadows giving form to the breasts, belly, shoulders and head. The light source comes from the upper left, and the variegations between light and dark give this rotating figure an almost three-dimensional effect.
This delicate drawing by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), the first to enter an American collection, was created in the early stages of his remarkable career. Born in Nuremberg in 1471, Dürer received his early training from his father, a goldsmith, and the painter and woodcut designer Michel Wolgemut. After his apprenticeship, he went on a Wanderjahr, traveling to many cities including Basel, Frankfurt, and Colmar to learn the techniques and styles employed by his fellow artists. From the autumn of 1494 to the spring of 1495, Dürer was in Italy, where he visited Venice, Padua, and Mantua. By 1495, Dürer was a master in his own right running a large workshop in Nuremberg. During the late 1490s, he worked incredibly hard to build a market for his own painted and printed works—publishing his first edition of the woodcut Apocalypse series in 1498. It is during this fruitful period that Dürer created the Female Nude with a Staff.
Many scholars have considered this work a drawing from life, as it shows signs of Dürer working through the proportions of the hips and the left shoulder and arm.(1) On the other hand, Jane Campbell Hutchinson more recently points out that the shape and torsion of the torso relate to Praxiteles’s lost Aphrodite of Knidos (c. 350 BC) known in the sixteenth century through many Hellenistic and Roman copies.(2) The drawing does seem poised ever so delicately between the real and the ideal, as Talbot and Levenson aptly note about a related drawing in the Lehman Collection of Fortuna in the Niche of 1498.(3)
Life drawings of nudes as studies of the human figure are among the earliest independent drawings from the fifteenth century and become a central theme of the Renaissance.(4) Dürer’s drawing is one of the first such drawings north of the Alps and is part of a group of works produced during the 1490s that focuses on the female nude.(5) Also part of this grouping are several prints including Four Naked Women of 1497; The Dream of the Doctor of 1498; and the Small Fortune from c. 1497. The last engraving has all of the elements of the Crocker drawing, but instead of an idyllic figure in contrapposto it shows a more aged woman with a notably Gothic figure—rounded stomach, high waist, elongated proportions—seen from behind.(6) Although the context of the figure is different, Neumeyer’s contention that the Crocker drawing is a preparatory study for the nude female in The Dream of the Doctor has been widely accepted.
Dürer was first introduced to mathematical perspective and proportions by the itinerant Italian artist Jacopo de’Barbari, whose own engravings of Victory and Fame and Vanity (Hind 26 and 18) betray an interest in the female nude and ideal proportions.(7) This drawing was created in the period just after Dürer’s return from his first trip to Italy. Dürer, the insatiable student, would have been well acquainted with Leon Battista Alberti’s Della pittura and Cennini’s Trattato della pittura, as well as other Quattrocento theories of proportion, and even with the canon of proportions developed by Vitruvius. Like the Lehman Fortuna, the bulging and steep neck muscles of the figure in the Crocker drawing seem to be based on geometric studies of the female body, as seen in Dürer’s Nude Woman with a Staff, from the National Gallery in Ottawa, an early study for the 1504 Adam and Eve.(8)
Freyda Spira, in William Breazeale, with Cara Denison, Stacey Sell, and Freyda Spira, A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 2010
(1) To name just two examples of many: Talbot and Levenson 1971 as in Literature above, p. 34; Neumeyer as in Literature above, p. 17.
(2) Hutchison 1991 as in Literature above, p. 55.
(3) Talbot and Levenson 1971 as in Literature above, p. 36.
(4) Fritz Koreny, The Robert Lehman Collection, VII, Fifteenth to Eighteenth Century European Drawings, New York, 1999, p. 40.
(5) As noted by several scholars, the group includes the following drawings: Naked Woman of 1493 in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne; Female Nude with Staff of 1495 in the Louvre, Paris; Woman’s Bathhouse of 1496 in the Kunsthalle, Bremen; and the aforementioned Fortune in a Niche in the Lehman Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
(6) This impression British Museum inv. no. 1855-7-14-36.
(7) Dürer may also have been exposed to Mantegna’s engraving of Four Women Dancing of ca. 1497 (Hind 21).
(8) inv. no. 6652. This drawing is thought to be an early study for the 1504 engraving of Adam and Eve.
Inscriptions: dark brown ink, lower center, monogrammed and dated: AD [ligatured] 1498; brown ink, lower left corner, numbered (vertically): 81; verso, graphite, lower right: F O/I; verso, dark brown ink, lower right corner: 60
Marks: verso, lower center, erased: Lugt 2314 (Stiglmeier)
Provenance: Johann Stiglmeier, Straubing, before 1856. Edwin Bryant Crocker, Sacramento, by 1871; gift of his widow Margaret to the Museum, 1885
Literature: William Breazeale, with Cara Denison, Stacey Sell, and Freyda Spira, A Pioneering Collection: Master Drawings from the Crocker Art Museum, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 2010, no. 42; William Breazeale, "Old Masters in Old California: the Origins of the Drawings Collection at the Crocker Art Museum," in Master Drawings, vol. XLVI, no. 2, Summer 2008, pp. 207, 211; William Breazeale, Susan Anderson, Christine Giviskos, and Christiane Andersson, The Language of the Nude: Four Centuries of Drawing the Human Body, exh. cat. Sacramento, 2008, cat. 45, pp. 134–136; Durero y Cranach, Arte y humanismo en la Alemania del Renacimiento, exh. cat. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid, 2007, p. 218 cat. 41; Bodo Brinkmann, ed., Hexenlust und Sündenfall: Die seltsamen Fantasien des Hans Baldung Grien, exh. cat. Städel Museum, Frankfurt, 2007, p. 80, cat. 21, fig. 43; Thomas daCosta Kaufmann, Central European Drawings in the Collection of the Crocker Art Museum, Turnhout, 2004, pp. xiv, xviii, 5–7; Klaus Albrecht Schroeder and Maria Luise Sternath, eds., Albrecht Dürer, exh. cat. Vienna, Albertina, 2003, p. 242; Anne Röver-Kann, Albrecht Dürer: Das Frauenbad von 1496, exh. cat. Kunsthalle Bremen, 2001, p. 24, fig. 2.8; Anne-Marie Bonnet, ‘Akt’ bei Dürer, Cologne 2001, p. 92, fig. 44; Rainer Schoch, ed. Albrecht Dürer, Das druckgraphische Werk, vol. 1, Munich 2001, p. 66 and pl. on p. 67; Peter Flagg, Fate, Fortune, Nemesis: Albrecht Dürer at the Century's End, exh. cat. Sacramento, 1999, pp. 3–11, 16; Jeffrey Ruda, The Art of Drawing, Old Masters from the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California, exh. cat. Flint, 1992, no. 21; Jane Campbell Hutchison, "Forum: Dürer's Praxitlean Aphrodite," in Drawing, vol. XIII, 1991, pp. 55–56; Jane Campbell Hutchison, Albrecht Dürer: A Biography, Princeton 1990, p. 71; Jeffrey Ruda, The World of Old Master Drawings: A Centennial Exhibition at the Crocker Art Museum, exh. brochure, Sacramento, 1985, p. 5, fig. 3; Jacqueline and Maurice Guillaud, Albrecht Dürer 1471–1528. Gravures Dessins, exh. cat. Centre Culturel du Marais, Paris, 1978, cat. 141; Matthias Mende, Albrecht Dürer, Das Frühwerk bis 1500, Herrsching am Ammersee, 1976, frontispiece; Ebria Feinblatt, Old Master Drawings from American Collections, exh. cat. Los Angeles, 1976, p. 150, no. 172; Walter L. Strauss, The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Dürer, New York, 1974, vol. 1, no. 1498/2; Axel Janeck, “Dürer Colloquium Nürnberg: Lisa Oehler, Die Aktzeichnungen W. 85 (Paris, Louvre) und W. 947 (Sacramento, Crocker Art Gallery),” in Kunstchronik, vol. XXV, 1972, pp. 206-208; 1471 Albrecht Dürer 1528, exh. cat. Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nuremberg, 1971, no. 458; Master Drawings from Sacramento, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 1971, p. 2, no. 7; Charles Talbot and Jay Levenson, eds., Dürer in America, his Graphic Work, exh. cat. Washington, 1971, pp. 34–36, no. V; Joanna Eagle, “‘Hand-drawings’ by Germany’s Greatest Artist,” Smithsonian, May 1971, pp. 44–45, ill. p. 42; Christopher White, review of Master Drawings from Sacramento, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 1971, in Master Drawings, vol. X, no. 2, Summer 1972, p. 167; Master Drawings from Sacramento, exh. cat. Sacramento and tour, 1971, no. 7, p. 2 and 151; Crocker Art Gallery, Catalogue of the Collections, Sacramento, 1964, p. 37, no. 3; Drawings of the Masters, exh. brochure, Sacramento, 1959, German School no. 4; Friedrich Winkler, Albrecht Dürer, Leben und Werk, Berlin 1957, p. 95; Felice Stampfle, Drawings and Prints by Albrecht Dürer. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 1955, pp. 3–4; Hans Tietze, Dürer als Zeichner und Aquarellist, Vienna 1951, pl.16; Hans Tietze, European Master Drawings in the United States, New York 1947, p. 58; Erwin Panofsky, Albrecht Dürer, Princeton 1943, handlist no. 1181; Numa S. Trivas, "Lesser Known American Art Collections. I. The E. B. Crocker Art Gallery of Sacramento, California, U.S.A.," in Apollo, vol. IV, December 1940, p. 137; Friedrich Winkler, Die Zeichnungen Albrecht Dürers, vol. IV, Berlin 1939, p. 110, no. 947; Drawings by the German Masters in the Edwin Bryant Crocker Collection, Sacramento, California, ed. Alfred Neumeyer, exh. cat. Sacramento, 1939, no. 3; Alfred Neumeyer, “Albrecht Dürer, Study of a Nude Female Figure,” Old Master Drawings, vol. 13 (1938), pp. 16–17; Harry Noyes Pratt, “The E. B. Crocker Collection of Old Master Drawings,” Prints, vol. 8 (1937), pp. 27, 30; Hans Tietze and Erika Tietze-Conrat, Kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke Albrecht Dürers, 2 vols., Basle, 1937-38, vol. II, no. 127a