Feast of the Rose Garlands by Albrecht Dürer

Feast of the Rose Garlands by Albrecht Dürer ( 1506)

My Daily Art Display today features a painting by an artist who is hailed as the one of the greatest painters of the Late Gothic and Early Renaissance period.  He was the Nuremburg painter Albrecht Dürer.  Today’s painting is entitled Feast of the Rose Garlands and was completed by Dürer in 1506 and now hangs in the National Gallery in Prague at the Sternberg Palace.  In France, this painting is known as La Vierge de la fête du rosaire (The Virgin of the Feast of the Rosary).   The work of art is considered to be a milestone piece in the transition between the late 15th century Gothic/Medievalism and the start of the 16th century Renaissance.

Dürer had returned to Italy for the second time in 1505 and the following year settled in Venice.   He was approached by some German merchants from the emigrant German community who had settled around the commercial centre of Venice, known as Fondaco dei Tedeschi.  They wanted a single panel altarpiece for their chapel in the Church of San Bartolomeo.  The people who commissioned the painting were very precise as to what should be depicted in the altarpiece.  It was to be the gathering of the Brotherhood of the Rosary, an association founded in Strasbourg in 1474 by the German priest Jakob Sprenger and a source of worship for the German citizens who lived in Venice.   The painting is highly colourful and littered with various people, so let me introduce you to some of the characters Dürer included in his work, probably under instruction of the commissioners of the painting.  The preparatory work for the panel took Dürer three months to complete and comprised of twenty-one pen and ink preliminary sketches which followed the Venetian painting tradition.  Besides these, Dürer completed a number of small drawings of the characters he was going to incorporate into the work, some of whom were real whilst others were imaginary.

The central figure in the painting is the Virgin Mary, who is enthroned in a field,  holding the Christ child.  The positioning of the Virgin and Child along with her worshipers outdoors probably has to do with Dürer’s fascination with Italian Humanism, which emphasized the importance of humans in the natural world and this painting is similar to other Humanistic paintings of saints and humans seen occupying similar landscapes.  Above the Virgin we can see two flying angels who hold aloft a highly ornate royal crown adorned with clusters of pearls and other gems.  The back of the throne is covered with a green drape and an ornate badachin, a canopy, which is held aloft by a ribbon held by two flying Bellini-like cherubim.  At the feet of the Virgin we can see another angel playing the lute.  The Virgin is in the process of handing out rose garlands to two sets of worshippers which approach her from opposite sides in two symmetrical rows.

To the left are representatives of the clergy with the Pope at their head, while on the right are the representatives of secular power.  The religious worshipper on the left of the painting are led by a kneeling Pope Sixtus IV, his papal tiara on the ground by his side,  and his inclusion in the painting probably stemmed from the fact that he had approved of the German Brotherhood of the Rosary in 1474.  He is about to be crowned by the Christ child.

The procession of lay worshippers on the right is led by the German emperor-designate Maximillian I, with his imperial crown by his side, who is being crowned by the Virgin Mary herself.  These two men were the looked upon as the supreme authorities of the Catholic world.   To the left of the Virgin Mary we see Saint Dominic of Guzman, the Spanish cleric and founder of the Dominicans in 1216 and the Confraternity of the Rosary in 1218.  In the painting, along with a number of angels he is handing out crowns of flowers to the faithful, as a symbolic blessing.   Amongst the religious grouping on the left of the painting we have the patriarch of Venice, Antonio Soriana, hands clasped before him.  Next to him Dürer has painted Burkard von Speyer, who was at the time of the painting, the chaplain of the church of San Bartolomeo.

The Artist

If we look across to the right hand side of the painting we see a typical German Alpine landscape in the background and the line of lay people who wait to pay homage to the Virgin and child.  However one of the first people our eyes alight upon is the artist himself.   Dürer often liked to include himself within crowd scenes of his paintings (look back at the featured Dürer painting, The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand, on April 25th).  Here we see him, standing before a tree, framed by long blonde hair, dressed in a heavy luxurious fur cloak with hooped sleeves, which immediately makes him stand out amongst the other people in the painting.  Look how he is the only one of the many characters to look directly out at us.   He can be seen holding a cartouche, or oblong scroll, in his hand.  On the scroll are the words:


(`Albrecht Dürer, a German, produced it within the span of five months. 1506.’)

By him are Leonhard Vilt of Regensburg, a printer who lived in the city and who founded the Brotherhood of the Rosary in Venice and further towards the foreground in the far right of the painting we have Hieronymus of Augsburg who was the architect and building master and who holds a builder’s square denoting his profession.  It was he who designed the new Fondaco dei Tedeschi after the original building of 1228 had been completely destroyed by fire.

This altarpiece remained in the church of San Bartolomeo in Venice until 1606.   It was then acquired, after long negotiations, for 900 ducats by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II. Archive records show it took four men to bring the packaged painting to the emperor’s residence in Prague.   Hidden away during the invasion of the Swedish troops, the painting which had already been badly damaged was returned to its “home” in 1635.  It underwent the first of many restorations in 1662, all of which instead of enhancing the work, damaged it even further.    In 1782, it was sold in an auction for one florin.   Over the years it was bought by various art collectors and was finally purchased by the Czechoslovakian state in 1930.

This colourful work by Dürer is in the great Venetian artistic tradition with its colour blending achieving deep and rich reds, blues and greens and maybe was the perfect answer to his many critics who had earlier stated that although there was no doubting Durer’s ability to produce magnificent engravings and woodcuts, he lacked the ability to handle colours and produce a fine painting.   The painting was well received and it drew crowds of visitors from all over Europe.   At the time, it was looked upon as one of the artistic highlights of Venice and Dürer’s status as master of Renaissance painting was incontrovertible.

The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand by Albrecht Dürer

The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand by Albrecht Dürer (1508)

This picture fascinated me.  It is a very disturbing work of art.    It was full of everything going on and one could spend ages looking at all the details of the scene.  I love this type of painting.  I love discovering new things every time I gaze at it.  I am starting to think that maybe instead of looking at Old Masters I should concentrate on “Where’s Waldo” pictures – only kidding !

The painting in My Daily Art Display is entitled The Martyrdom of Ten Thousand by Albrecht Dürer, which he painted in 1508 and it can now be found in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.  This was an altarpiece commissioned by the Elector of Saxony Frederick the Wise for the chamber of relics in his Wittenberg castle chapel.  Frederick is said to have owned relics from the actual massacre and kept them in this chapel.  He displayed them annually until Martin Luther prohibited the practice.

The scene is based on a story from Jacobus de Voragine’s collection of stories about the saints entitled Legenda aurea or Golden Legend.  The legend in question is the massacre of ten thousand men by the Persian King Saporat.  According to the legend the Roman Emperors Hadrian and Antonius marched at the head of a large army on a campaign to Asia Minor to suppress the revolt of the Gadarenes and the people of the Euphrates region.   However the battle didn’t go well and all fled except nine thousand soldiers. These had been converted to Christianity after angels appeared to them, promising victory.  Buoyed up with that knowledge the nine thousand soldiers attacked and completely routed the enemy.  When the two emperors heard of this great victory they sent for the men, telling them to come home and join in the sacrafices of thanksgiving to the gods.  The men refused to return and worship “false gods”.  The emperors enraged by their disobedience asked the five kings, rulers of this area, to help in bringing back the “converts”.  The kings gathered up a huge army and the converts were trapped on Mount Arafat.  Their safe passage home was guaranteed providing they denied their faith.  However they refused and were stoned but according to the legend the stones just rebounded against their persecutors.   At seeing this miracle another thousand soldiers deserted the attacking hordes and joined the nine thousand converts.  It was at this point the emperors ordered every one of the ten thousand men to be crucified.

The Artist and friend

So let us now look at this fascinating painting in which Durer has depicted the killing of these ten thousand converts.  If you look carefully at the centre of the picture you will see two men dressed in black.  On the right we have Dürer himself holding a stick attached to which is a note which reads:

This work was done in the year 1508 by Albrecht Dürer, German

Next to him stands his friend Konrad Celtis, the German Renaissance humanist and scholar who actually died before the painting was completed.  Maybe his inclusion was Dürer’s memorial tribute to his friend.  It always fascinates me to see how many artists paint themselves into their own pictures, often part of crowd scenes.  It is a little bit like Alfred Hitchcock who always appeared for a few seconds in his own films.

The Oriental Potentate

If you look in the foreground on the right-hand side you can see one of the kings of Euphrates who had been called in by the two Roman emperors to suppress the “rebellion”.   He is resplendent in his blue cloak and white turban which makes him stand out from the others.  Art historians believe that Dürer’s  portrayal of the oriental potentate was a reference to the threat of a Turkish invasion into Europe, since fifty years earlier, Constantinople had been captured and people were concerned that the marauding armies may move further westward.

The killings

There is a savagery to this painting as we see the converts being systematically killed, some by crucifixion whilst others are being thrown off high cliffs.  In the foreground to the left, we can see one blindfolded man about to be decapitated.  On the ground we see a decapitated head.  In the centre foreground we see a man with his foot on the chest of a convert about to drive a stake through his heart.  It is all very grizzly.

Men being led to their deaths

 To the right of the middle-ground we see a line of men, some naked, tied together in a line being marched up the mountain where they would eventually be thrown off the cliffs to their death.  To the left of the line we see a man with a heavy boulder held above his head about to hurl it downwards on to the skull of a hapless convert.

It is a veritable bloodbath of a picture and the details may make you feel uncomfortable but the detail and the colours make this one of my favourite paintings.


Portrait of a Young Woman with Loose Hair by Albrecht Dürer

Portrait of a Young Woman with Loose Hair by Albrecht Dürer (1497)

As promised yesterday, today the featured painting in My Daily Art Display today, is Albrecht Dürer’s work entitled Portrait of a Young Fürleger with Long Hair which was also completed in 1497 and was along with yesterday’s portrait, part of the diptych.  The two paintings remained together as such until 1830 at which time they were sold privately to different art collectors.  As was explained in yesterday’s blog the two portraits purport to be of the daughters of the wealthy Fürleger family of Nuremburg although this fact has since been disputed.

As with the case of yesterday’s portrait this painting bears a similar coat of arms but in this instance, it is an inverted red lily which was similar to the one used by the Fürleger family, albeit theirs was a yellow lily on a blue background.  Again, as was the case in yesterday’s portrait it is believed that this coat of arms was added later.

There is a marked contrast between the two portraits.  Yesterday’s portrait of the young woman with her hair in braids had part of the background taken up by a window, out of which one could see a countryside landscape.  Today there is no such view of the world outside and has a rather sombre, dark, neutral and enclosed background.  Art historians believe that this aspect of the two paintings leads us to believe that the woman with the braided hair is a woman who openly welcomes the world and who is either open to offers of betrothal or is indeed already betrothed.  On the other hand, today’s young woman has shut herself off from the world.  She has renounced the world and its temptations and will pledge her life to Christ’s work in a convent.  This is also borne out by her devout pose.  Her head is lowered with her hands clasped together in prayer. She seems somewhat shy and retiring and avoids our gaze as she looks downwards.

Our young woman today wears a simple coral bracelet around her left wrist.  Her clothes are drabber.  The neckline of her chemise is high covering all of the upper part of her chest.  This is in complete contrast to the more plunging neckline of the chemise worn by “the young Fürleger with her hair up”.   It is interesting to look at the shape of the two girl’s necks.  They seem somewhat swollen which has led experts to believe that both may have suffered with thyroid problems. 

In today’s portrait the young woman’s hair cascades down over her shoulders.  It is a simple style.  One could say that it is “as God intended it to be”.  A simple headband holds it place allowing us to have an interrupted view of her delightful face.  The light comes from her right hand side casting a shadow on the left side of her face.  Her lips are closed but there is a hint of a smile.  This is indeed a soft and beautiful face and the young woman exudes a demure expression in complete contrast to the expression on the face of yesterday’s young woman which was harder and more worldly-wise.

I have to admit when I looked at the two portraits I initially “fell in love” with the girl with her hair up but on close scrutiny I believe today’s young woman is the more beautiful of the two and the one I would like to meet and get to know.  Maybe it is her unavailability that intrigues me and makes me want to know more about her.  Maybe it is her gentle expression that has seduced me.

Once again “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, so look at the two images and decide for yourself  “who is the fairest of them all

Portrait of a Young Fürleger with Her Hair Done Up by Albrecht Dürer

Portrait of Young Woman with Her Hair Done Up by Albrecht Dürer (1497)

My Daily Art Display for today is a tempera on canvas portrait by Albrecht Dürer.  It is entitled Portrait of a Young Woman (Katharina Fürleger).   It was painted in 1497 and can now be found in the Gemäldegalerie, Staatlich Museen, Berlin.  This painting is sometimes known as Portrait of a Young Fürleger with Her Hair Done Up, to differentiate it from another portrait by Dürer of a girl with her hair loose, entitled Portrait of a Young Fürleger with Loose Hair, which is on display at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt. 

When the two portraits were hung together they formed part of a diptych but in 1830 they were sold separately and are now looked upon as single portraits.  At one time it was thought that both pictures were of the same young woman, namely Katharina Fürleger but nowadays art historians have changed their minds and believe the two paintings are of two different younger sisters of the wealthy Nuremburg Fürleger family.  A lot of the finer details of this painting have been totally or partially destroyed during restoration attempts and some of the details of the painting are only known because of Wenceslaus Hollar’s engraving of this painting, which he etched in 1646, before some of the details had been damaged.

We see the young woman sitting by a window, out of which we can just make out an undulating landscape.  In the foreground,  there is a path leading to a large gate in a wall.  Parts of the landscape in the painnting have been totally or partially destroyed during various restoration attempts.  Although it cannot be seen in my attached picture the wooden window post on the frame of the window is decorated with a carving of a robed man, possibly a prophet, who is reading a book on which is painted Dürer’s monogram.  This also has been partially destroyed but it is known to be part of the original as recorded by the Hollar engraving.   Seen from the side, this man used to look towards the other portrait of the diptych, Portrait of a Young Girl with her Hair Down.

The young girl is eighteen years of age.  How is that known?  The paper or parchment cantellino, which can be seen, fixed to the wall to the right of her head bears an inscription which is not visible on the painting today but Hollar’s engraving shows that the cantellino originally had the inscription:


which translated means:

“This was my appearance when eighteen years old in 1497”

Just below this cantellino one can just make out a small shield hanging by a strap from a nail in the wall.  On the shield is an inverted red cross which was similar in design to the Fürleger’s coat of arms – a yellow cross on a blue background.

The young woman is wearing her hair up in large braids wrapped around her head, which often signifies she has reached a marriageable age or is in fact betrothed.   Around her head is a pearl-studded headdress which suggests she comes from a wealthy family.  Her hands rest on a parapet.  In her right hand she delicately holds between finger and thumb a stalk of a plant identified as eryngium, which symbolises fortune and two stalks of southern-wood, also known as Lover’s Plant or Maid’s Ruin, which was used in love potions.  Her hands seem slightly deformed as if she is suffering an early onset of arthritis but this may just be the way Dürer painted hands.   She wears a red gown, which is partially covering her chemise.  The black trim of this chemise has an embroidered series of letters on it which are thought to be part of a motto.

There is just one final twist to the story of this painting.  Art historians now say that the shield seen on the wall, which bore a resemblance to the Kürtleger’s family emblem, was added later to the painting as it was not shown in an early copy of the painting, which is now in Leipzig but it did appear in Hollar’s engraving of 1646.  It was because of this family emblem that people originally believed it to be a portrait of Katharina Fürleger but there is no record of such a daughter.  There was however a daughter, Anna Fürleger, but in 1497, the date of this painting, she was only thirteen years of age. 

So is this Katharina Fürleger or should we believe art historian Fedja Anzelewsky, who believes the young woman in both paintings to be Dürer’s sister-in-law Katharina Frey?  Others however suggest that the young women in the two portraits are in fact Dürer’s sisters Agnes and Katharina.

Tomorrow I will feature the other painting of the woman, the young woman with her hair loose.