Male or Female? One of Duerer’s prints in the context of gender, feminism and other theories

Dürer drew a man not a women. See for yourself:

Duerer's own sketch

Duerer's preliminary sketch showing a man not a woman.

(The woodcut based on this sketch by Dürer’s appears ‘mirrored’ in the printed version as a consequence of the printing process. Ektachrome Signatur: 4 L.impr.c.n.mess. 119, )
Please find more details about this sketch in my earlier blog here.

This post intents to question the basis of some of the interpretations of the woodcut ‘Draughtsman drawing a reclining woman’ by Albrecht Dürer. This image has been used as the basis of discussions in the context of gender, feminism and post modernism. Below is the widely known image on which these discussions are focused:

Duerer's 'Draughtsman drawing a reclining woman' as published 1538

Duerer's 'Draughtsman drawing a reclining woman'

The following sentences are taken out of some of the texts, with links to the full text where they are quoted from:
Purdue University:
The result confirms our suspicion that vision exists in Dürer’s image as the scene of sexual possession. Dürer’s engraving presents us with a specular economy that sublimates touch into sight and dominance into art. And we, by implication, are present as a third party to these events….

Suny College at Oneonta:
The opposition between male culture and female nature is starkly drawn in this image; the two confront each other. The woman lies in a prone position; the pose is difficult to determine, but her hand is clearly poised in a masturbatory manner over the genital. In contrast to the curves and undulating lines of the female section, the male compartment is scattered with sharp, vertical forms; the draughtsman himself is up and is alert and absorbed. Woman offers herself to the controlling discipline of illusionistic art. With her bent legs closest to the screen, the image recalls not simply the life class but also the gynaeocological examination.

Even at Stanford University someone cannot help but to make a comment about this image:
A wooden frame covered with a grid of black threads, together with an eyepiece – represented here by a small obelisk – permitted an artist to replicate the scene before him onto a drawing surface ruled with a matching grid. We will repeat his demonstration in class. Nobody will be asked to undress.

Now my thoughts:
What leads me to question these readings is a handwritten text and preliminary sketch by Albrecht Dürer himself. I came across these sources while sighting an Ektachrome reproduction of one page in Dürer’s own copy of the 1st edition 1525 Painters Manual at the Bayerische Staatsbiliothek in München, Germany.
Please find more details about this sketch in my earlier blog here.

Dürer had planed further additions for the 2nd edition of his Manual. The sketch and descriptions were inserted as a loose leaf in a (his own) copy of the 1st edition.
Now what is interesting is that this 2nd edition was printed in 1538 ten years after his death, commissioned by his wife Agnes Dürer. As is obvious from this initial sketch that Dürer shows the artist drawing another man and NOT a woman.
In my view Dürer’s intention was how to best illustrate this particular drawing system – subdividing the picture plane in squares as reference areas to be reproduced on a drawing surface with the same number of squares.

That he used a human figure as a ‘subject’ in this print follows from his intense study and documentation of the human proportions he did at this time– also published after his death. In other illustrations about the use of drawing aids to achieve a realistic perspective, he had used a simple object, like a vase or more challenging objects eg a lute. In this image he uses the complexity of the human figure, especially when observed in such a way that it will display foreshortening; difficult to capture even for an experienced hand.

I have absolutely no problem in ‘taking a work of art’ to support one or another theory or point, but in this case I believe the authors of the texts above might have reached different conclusions if they would have known about Dürer’s own view as shown in the sketch of this so well known and discussed print.

There are further ‘clues’ in the text that he had written on the same page. I will post soon a transcript/translation in German and English from his handwriting.


3 Responses to “Male or Female? One of Duerer’s prints in the context of gender, feminism and other theories”

  1. 1 David 29/12/2009 at 3:01 PM

    I’m a litle late responding, but this wood cut interests me greatly and the sketch drawing is an incredible find.

    first of all: where did you find the drawing?

    Second: why do you say that the print is from 1538? Everyone else will say that it is from 1525 and an original Duerer print.



    • 2 virtualterritory 30/12/2009 at 2:29 PM

      Dear David,

      thank you for your comment on my blog about Duerer’s sketch. You will find the answers to your questions here.

      Sorry for this somewhat ‘lazy’ response, please get in touch if you have any further questions about my blog post.
      It is any interesting fact about this well discussed print, that seems not to have been recorded somewhere else.



  1. 1 Ist Albrecht Dürer ein Fehler unterlaufen? Eine überraschende Entdeckung in seinem Holzschnitt ‘Der Zeichner der Laute’ « virtualterritory Trackback on 08/10/2008 at 5:51 PM

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