Posts Tagged 'Dürer'

I wish I had known about this site earlier. The “Rare Book Room”.

Many of my posts share findings about two particular prints published in Albrecht Dürer’s 2nd edition of the Painters Manual 1538 (Unterweysung der Messung). In order to see these woodcuts in relation to their descriptive texts and their ‘context’ within the book, I had to travel to Melbourne, Nürnberg, Munich and Vienna.

I could have had a very good ‘preview’ of this book on the “Rare Book Room” site where a good quality, page by page, reproduction of the Manual is available.

On the intro page of this fantastic site it says: ‘The Rare Book Room site has been constructed as an educational site intended to allow the visitor to examine and read some of the great books of the world.’ And it is a pleasure to turn the pages of these special books.

You can see the two prints by Dürer I referred in some of my posts in the rare bookroom here:

The Draughtsman of the Lute and A draughtsman drawing a reclining woman.

My blogs about the ‘Lute’ print are:
‘Did Albrecht Dürer get it wrong, a surprise discovery in one of his prints’
‘Ist Albrecht Dürer ein Fehler unterlaufen eine überraschende Entdeckung in seinem Holzschnittes der Zeichner der Laute’
‘Further to Albrecht Dürer woodcut The draughtsman of the Lute’

My blogs about the ‘Reclining woman’ are:
‘A page out of Dürer’s own copy of the Painters Manual’
‘Male or Female? One of Dürer’s prints in the context of gender, feminism and other theories.’
‘Dürer lost in translation? German Klartext and English translation of one page of Dürer’s handwritten manuscript of his 2nd edition of the painters manual’


Dürer lost in translation? German ‘Klartext’ and English translation of one page of Dürer’s handwritten manuscript for his 2nd edition of the Painters Manual.

The image below shows a word-by-word and line-by-line ‘translation’ of Dürer’s handwriting in clear text. In this text Dürer describes the use of his illustration of the ‘grid system’ as a drawing aid. Please find a discussion about this illustration here. Below the image is the English translation by Walter L. Strauss (The Painter’s Manual, 1977, pge 435). I matched the line sequence of the English translation with the one of Dürer’s manuscript to allow for an easier comparison of the two texts. Please click on the image to enlarge and read the German Klartext.

Translation of Dürer's handwriting into German 'Klartext' by Gilbert Riedelbauch

Translation of Dürer

(Ektachrome Signatur: 4 L.impr.c.n.mess. 119,
Please find more details about this page in my earlier blog here.

Walter L. Strauss’ translation:

1. There is yet another method of copying an object and of
2. rendering it larger or smaller according to one’s wish, and
3. it is more practical than using a glass pane because it is
4. less restricted. In this method one uses a frame with a grid
5. of strong black thread. The spaces or quadrangles should
6. be about two fingers wide. For scanning,
7. one must prepare a pointer whose height should
8. be adjustable to be at eye level, which is
9. marked ‘o’. Then place the object to
10. be drawn a good distance away. Move it or bend
11. it as you like, and view it from
12. level ‘o’ to ascertain that it is in
13. the proper position, so as to please you. Then
14. place the grid or frame between the object and the pointer.
15. If you prefer to use fewer spaces of the grid,
16. move it closer to the object. Check how many spaces of the
17. grid will be utilized to accommodate the width and height
18. of the object and then draw a grid, large or small,
19. on which you wish to draw. Now begin to scan the object with your eye -point
20. o- placed above the pointer, and where it points on the grid in the frame, mark it
21. off on the grid on your sheet of paper. It will be good, and it will be
22. correct. But if you prefer to drill a small hole into your scanner,
23. it will serve the same purpose equally well. I have drawn
24. this method below.
notice on the margin (+ on a sheet of paper or a panel)

My thoughts about this text:
As I pointed out earlier here this text appeared in the second edition of Dürer’s painters manual together with a preliminary sketch for the woodcut ‘A draughtsman drawing a reclining woman’. This second and extended edition had 22 additional illustrations. It was commissioned in 1538 by his wife Agnes and printed by his friend Hieronymus Formschneyder ten years after Dürer’s death.
Several ‘inconsistencies’ appear when comparing Dürer’s manuscript with the final printed version. Firstly he makes references to the ‘eye-point’ marked ‘o’ in lines 9 and 12. He shows this point in his sketch, however in the printed version the text still shows the ‘o’ but the final printed illustration does not.
Secondly the ‘gender change’ in the illustration itself. Dürer drew a male model in front of the artist while the printed version shows a female model. This printed version has given rise to much discussion. Please see earlier blog about this print.

sketch by Albrecht Durer for the woodcut print draughts man drawing a reclining woman

Sketch 1525?

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

Print 1538

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.

A page out of Albrecht Duerer’s own copy of the Painters Manual

I visited several print-rooms in Europe in April this year in the hope to find evidence in support of my theory of the ‘misaligned perspective’ . (see earlier blogs: ‘Blog 1 English version’ , ‘Blog 1 Deutsche Version’ , ‘Blog 2’). Using funds from the Carrick Award, I saw original versions of the wood cut of ‘Man drawing a lute’ at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Nürnberg, Germany) and at the Albertina (Vienna, Austria) as well as high quality ‘Ektachrome’ slide at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (München, Germany) this slide held the biggest surprise for me, but more about this slide later.

In Nürnberg I was able to see a copy of the print in question as a single leaf (proof) and several (historic) books holding references to this print. In Vienna I got presented a copy of Dürer’s Manual which was cut at the margins and included also some drawings about medieval defense installations from an other book by Duerer. It was a special moment when these original Renaissance works were brought out of the vault and presented for close inspection.

Man drawing a Lute AD 1525

None of the works I saw at either location could provide me with any further inside about my theory. The senior curator at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Dr. Rainer Schoch, made me aware that the Bayerische Staatsbiliothek in München holds a copy of Dürer’s own copy of the 1525 Manual with handwritten comments and additions, an advice which let to very exciting new insides about this Manual.

My visits to Nürnberg and Vienna were prearranged so I could see the original artworks, however the visit to München was spontaneous with only a few hours to spend allowing not enough time to retrieve Duerer’s own copy of the Manual from the air conditioned vaults but I was able to sight an ‘Ektachrome’ reproduction of the page with ‘Man drawing a lute’. As this Ektachrome shows the book opened, two pages are visible. On the right side is the print of ‘Lute’ but the left page is covered by an inserted loose leaf with a hand written text and sketch by Dürer himself.

On this loose leaf he has described the use of an additional drawing system to achieve a perspective drawing. The published print of this sketch is usually referred to as the ‘(Daughts) Man drawing a reclining woman’ or in German ‘Ein Mann zeichnet eine liegende Frau’. It was printed in the 2nd edition – the 1538 edition of this Manual which was published by his wife, Agnes Dürer, 10 years after his death, it appears in a significantly altered version. Here is a low resolution of digital reproduction of this slide. I will blog a translation of the text and some further thoughts on Dürer’s sketch and its printed version in the near future.

One page out of Dürer's own copy of the Painters Manual

One page out of Dürer

Ektachrome Signatur: 4 L.impr.c.n.mess. 119 ( (I purchased a digital reproduction of this Ektachrome and have permission to publish it as part of my research)

I like to thank Frau Barbara Fellner for her assistance and her skillful navigation to make the findings in Munich possible.

Further to Albrecht Dürer’s 1525 woodcut ‘Man drawing a Lute’ (The Draughtsman of the Lute)

While researching into the perspective relationship between the picture elements of this print (see earlier posts in English and in Deutsch) I noticed several ‘abnormalities’ in reproductions of this so well known work by Duerer. These abnormalities appear on paper representations and on digital images of this print. This post is to bring together these titbits.

In 2006 I was privileged to see originals of Dürer’s ‘The Painters Manual’, these splendid copies of this renaissance publications are held at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, Australia. The ‘Man drawing a lute’ image is towards the back of these publication and is relatively small in size, 182 x 132 mm, rather like a postcard, the detail and the precisions of the lines however are impressive. The NGV, which very generously opened its archives for me, holds a large if not the largest collection of Albrecht Dürer’s graphic and print work outside Germany.
Duerer’s 1525 and 1528 edition of the ‘painters manual’ ‘Unterweissung’

Now to the abnormalities in the reproductions:
1.) The vertical ‘rift’ in the upper middle of the print.
The following image shows in its upper part the print as in the original publications, while the image in the lower part shows it with the ‘rift’.
I found this distortion not present in the 1525 or the 1538 (NGV, Melbourne) editions but in many reproduction of images on the internet and in the following books, some declare to show ‘facsimile’ of Dürer’s print works.

Dürer today, pge 48
1970 and 1978 by Heinz Moos Verlag, Munich, ISBN 3-7879-0119-1
The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer, illustration 338, Edited by Dr. Willi Kurth
1963, Dover Publication, New York, ISBN 0-486-21097-9
Albrecht Dürer, Les Gravures sur Bois
1978, Art et Culture, Paris, No d’impression: 5799

Initially I believed it to be a clue to help prove that Dürer (or the woodcutter) had made a mistake or change to the original print leading to the wrong relation of the perspective elements as discussed in earlier posts on this blog (see earlier posts in English and in Deutsch). But as I had to discover, while inspecting the almost 500 year old originals at the NGV, this distortion is not visible in the original editions. It seems to be an artefact from a later printing process of copies. The paper might have been ‘pinched’ at an early print run and subsequent copies and facsimiles have just helped reproducing this fault.

2.) The change in the quality of line.
Close inspection of the originals also showed a visible change in the quality of the line delineating the white space on the table below the open frame with the point drawing of the lute. This change is visible in all reproductions of this print. The weight or thickness changes at this location, some seem to run together with their neighboring line just as if they have been corrected or added later. And to support my theory (see earlier posts in English and in Deutsch), these ‘abnormal’ lines start where I suspect the frame should be placed in the composition of the print to make the perspective alignment of all elements right. Here is a crop of the highest resolution image I was able to find, which shows the changes in lines clearly.
Albrecht Duerer, Man drawing a lute, the draughtsman of the lute, Change of line, Riedelbauch
I found this image on ArtStore.

3.) ‘Pirate’ copy of this print
Duerer’s Pirate? copy of ‘painters manual’ ‘Unterweissung’
On ArtStore there are several digital images of Dürer’s ‘Man drawing a Lute’ print, one of them looks like it had been printed from a re cut woodblock. It shows ‘1530’ as date, two years after Dürer’s death !– the original had 1525 as date – and a sanitised point-drawing of the lute. Duerer’s work, very popular during his life time achieved respectable retail prices leading to illicit copies.

Finally, I found a little reference about a handwritten note by Dürer on the back of the 1st edition in Nuernberg on the back of this print. I love to know what he wrote, as it might shed some light on some of my questions I have about the composition of this work. This remark appears on page 266 in the 3rd of three volumes, this book focuses exclusively on Dürer’s book illustrations. These wonderful books, edited by Rainer Schoch, Matthias Mende and Anna Scherbaum, are the most comprehensive publications about Duerer’s print (Druckgraphische) work. I hope one day to be able to read Dürer’s note and to find out more about this significant print.

If you have any further information about this print by Dürer or any comment about my views of his work please get in touch.

Ist Albrecht Dürer ein Fehler unterlaufen? Eine überraschende Entdeckung in seinem Holzschnitt ‘Der Zeichner der Laute’

Link to English version
Visuelle Untersuchung des Holzschinttes ‘Der Zeichner der Laute’, bei Albrecht Dürer, 1525.

Siehe auch: Dürer hatte einen Mann im Sinn und nicht eine Frau – Fehldeutungen über den Holzschnitt ‘Ein Mann zeichnet eine liegende Frau’. (Blog in Englisch)

Was folgt ist ein direktes Ergebnis unterrichts gestützter Forschung.

Auf der Suche nach historischem Bezugsmaterial für unsere neue Design Basisklasse fiel mir der Holzschnitt ‘Der Zeichner der Laute’ von Albrecht Dürer auf. Durer,Man drawing a Lute AD 1525, RiedelbauchIch konnte nicht voraussehen, dass dieser weltbekannte Druck mich in eine umfassende Internet- und Literaturforschung führen und mich am Ende den Meister der Nördlichen Renaissance noch mehr schätzen lernen würde. Die Entdeckung und Ergebnisse sind in den folgenden Zeilen und Abbildungen festgehalten.


Albrecht Dürer, der bedeutende Künstler wurde 1471 in Nürnberg – zu seiner Zeit ein Zentrum des Kunsthandwerkes – geboren. Er war gebildet und mit vielen seiner einflussreichen Zeitgenossen befreundet. Seine Reisen nach Italien, der Schweiz und in die Niederlande machten ihn damals zu einem Kosmopoliten. Während seiner zweiten Italienreise schrieb er 1506 an den Humanisten und Freund Willibald Pirckheimer, es würde ihm jemand mehr über ‘geheime Kunst der Perspektive’ zeigen. (a, Strauss 1977). Zweifellos waren es die Einsichten in diese Kunst, die ihn die perspektivischen Apparate entwickeln liessen, die er in seinen Büchern so überzeugend illustrierte.

Albrecht Dürer ist für seine Gravuren, Holzschnitte, Gemälde sowie für seine illustrierten Bücher, wie dasjenige über die ‘Underweysung der Messung Mit dem Zirckel un Richtscheyt’durer-manual-cover-512.jpg bekannt. Der Holzdruck ‘Der Zeichner der Laute’ ist im vierten Band der ‘Unterweissungen’ unter dem Kapitel ‘Über die Theorie der Perspektive’ zu finden. Darin illustrierte Dürer wie man mittels seiner praktischen Vorrichtung eine detaillierte perspektivische Abbildung auf einer schwenkbaren Leinwand festhalten kann. In der ersten Auflage von 1525 zeigt Dürer zwei Vorrichtungen die es ermöglichen eine Perspektive korrekt abzubilden. Zur Neuauflage dieses Buches, -es erschien 1528 in Dürer’s Todesjahr-, hatte er drei weitere Apparaturen entwickelt. Sein Ruf als Künstler, sein Interesse an der Geometrie und seine Erfindungen lassen ihn ebenbürtig neben Raphael und Leonardo da Vinci erscheinen.

Ich verwende Albrecht Dürer’s Druck mit der Laute in meinem Unterricht, da er das Prinzip der Bildebene klar illustriert. Um die Abhängigkeit der Abbildungsgröße vom Abstand der Bildebene zum Betrachtungspunkt zu demonstrieren, habe ich eine ‘zeitgenössische’ Variante dieses dürerischen Systems entwickelt.student-durer-laser-512.jpg Zwei Glasplatten werden in etwa einem Meter Abstand voneinander so aufgestellt, dass ein Objekt durch beide Glasplatten (Bildebenen) betrachtet werden kann. Ein Laserpointer, auf einem Stativ montiert, verkörpert den Betrachtungspunkt. Wenn aktiviert, leuchtet der Laserstrahl durch beide Glasplatten auf das Objekt und lässt gleichzeitig einen roten Punkt auf beiden Bildebenen sowie dem Objekt erscheinen. Die Studenten tasten dann das Objekt mit dem Laser Punkt für Punkt ab und markieren die dominierenden topologischen Merkmale auf den gläsernen Bildebenen. Beide Glasplatten zeigen, wie erwartet, eine gleiche Punktverteilung, jedoch in zwei verschiedenen Größen. Photokopien von beiden Bildebenen erlauben den Studenten dann perspektivisch korrekte Zeichnungen in zwei verschiedenen Größen anzufertigen.laser-dot-drawing-512_Riedelbauch.jpg

Durch diese Erfahrung mit meinen Studenten, bekam ich eine gute Vorstellung von dem Zusammenhang des Abstandes Betrachtungspunkt/Bildebene und der Abbildungsgröße. Bei näherer Betrachtung des Dürer Druckes fiel mir auf, dass die Abbildung der Laute zu groß erscheint. Ich öffnete eine digitale Version dieses Bildes in der Bildbearbeitungs Software ‘Photoshop’ zur visuellen Untersuchung. Nachdem ich die Leinwand mit der Laute in Dürer’s Druck isoliert und perspektivisch korrekt manipuliert hatte, konnte ich eine Kopie davon in den offenen Rahmen projizieren. Die Verbindungslinie (Faden), die den Taststab an der Laute und den Betrachtungspunkt an der Wand verbindet, durchdringt die simulierte Leinwand in der korrespondierenden richtigen Position . Jedoch, wenn man einen anderen Punkt an der Laute wählt, wie z. B. den Berührungspunkt des Griffbrettes mit der Tischoberfläche, stellt sich heraus, dass der Projektionsstrahl zum Betrachtungspunkt die Leinwand nicht an der korrekten Stelle durchdringt.


Dürer’s Zeichnung der Laute ist überdimensioniert, zu groß. Verbindet man den Berührungspunkt des Griffbrettes mit dem korrespondierenden Punkt in der Leinwand, zeigt sich, dass dieser Projektionsstrahl weder zum Betrachtungspunkt zeigt, noch mit der ersterwähnten korrekten Linie konvergiert, also keinen gemeinsamen Betrachtungspunk hat.


Ich war überrascht, dass Dürer, ein Meister der Zentralperspektive – die Zweipunktperspektive war zu seiner Zeit noch nicht entwickelt – solch eine fehlerhafte Darstellung veröffentlichen würde. Ebenso verblüffte mich, dass eine Illustration von Prinzipien perspektivischer Darstellung ihre eigenen Regeln so eindeutig ignoriert. Es war weiterhin erstaunlich, dass ich keine Hinweise in der kunsthistorischen Literatur in Bezug auf diesen Fehler in dem so bekannten Holzschnitt finden konnte.

Was veranlasste Dürer diesen Fehler in seinem Buch abdrucken zu lassen? Platzierte er den Rahmen zu weit rechts, um der dominierenden Person – ich vermutete sie stelle den Meister dar – mehr Raum zu geben, während der Assistent, der den Schnittpunkt des Fadens im Rahmen festhält, sich mit eingeschränktem Raum abzufinden hatte? Es erschien plausible und Dürer’s Eitelkeit entsprechend, dass dem Meister mehr Raum zugeordnet werden musste. Jedoch sollte mich der Meister selbst eines Besseren belehren. In seinen Anweisungen zu diesem perspektivischen Zeichenapparat schreibt er: (sinngemäß) “Nun gehe wie folgt vor. Platziere eine Laute oder ein anderes Objekt nach eigenem Gutdünken vor den Rahmen, jedoch so, dass sich das Objekt während der Arbeit nicht bewegt. Lasse Deinen Assistenten den Taster hantieren….”. Dies stellt ohne Zweifel klar, dass die Figur rechts in der Abbildung den Meister darstellt und nicht den Assistenten wie ich fälschlicherweise angenommen hatte.

Die Abbildung der Laute ist als Punktzeichnung wahrheitsgemäss umrissen, jedoch zu gross für den Rahmen in der gezeigten Position. Es stellt sich die Frage:’ Wo müsste der Rahmen stehen, um die Punktzeichnung der Laute in der dargestellten Grösse erscheinen zu lassen? Wie das Laserexperiment mit den Studenten bestätigt, ist die Abbildung umso grösser je näher die Bildebene – der Rahmen mit der Leinwand – beim Objekt ist. In Dürer’s Holzschnitt müsste der Rahmen mehr nach links, also näher an die Laute rücken. Im weiteren fiel mir bei genauerer Betrachtung des Holzschnittes die eigenartige Stellung der linken Hand des Assistenten auf, dessen ausgestreckter Arm mehr auf der empfindlichen Vorrichtung mit der geöffneten Leinwand zu lasten schien, anstatt diese zu unterstützen. Mit Hilfe der Bildbearbeitungs Software verschob und verkleinerte ich den Rahmen bis er genau in die Hand des Assistenten passte. In dieser Position ist der Rahmen nur von der Seite zu sehen und stellt sich als senkrechte Leiste dar. Anschliessend markierte ich drei Referenzpunkte auf der Punktzeichnung der ausgeklappten Leinwand. Der erste Punkt, von Dürer selbst gewählt, markiert den Berührungspunkt des Taststabes mit der Laute, der zweite ist am Ende des Griffbrettes, und der dritte schliesslich zeigt die Stelle, wo der Hals des Instrumentes auf dem Tisch aufliegt. Im nächsten Schritt habe ich dann diese drei Punkte am Instrument selbst markiert und sie dann durch Linien mit dem Betrachtungspunkt an der Wand verbunden.

Durer_Man_Drawing_A_Lute_Riedelbauch_fig11.jpgNun veränderte ich die Position einer Leinwandkopie mit der Punktzeichung und den Referenzpunkten und verkleinerte diese perspektivisch korrekt bis sie der Rahmengrösse entsprach. Da die Leinwand zusammen mit dem Rahmen nun in die Mitte des Druckes zu stehen kommt, erscheinen sie – typisch für die Zentralperspektive – in der Seitenansicht. Dafür zeigt sich nun klar, dass alle Elemente, die Bezugspunkte am Instrument zusammen mit ihren Referenzpunkten auf der Leinwand im Betrachtungspunkt konvergieren.

Durer_Man_Drawing_A_Lute_Riedelbauch_fig12.jpgDas lässt den Schluss zu, dass Dürer ursprünglich geplant hatte den Rahmen dem Assistenten in die Hand zu geben, um dadurch die grösstmögliche Abbildung der Laute zu erreichen. Diese Stellung des Rahmens reduzierte jedoch die Klarheit der Illustration, da der Rahmen nur als Leiste zu sehen ist, und die Leinwand samt den Referenzpunkten von der Durchdringung des Tasterfadens unsichtbar bleibt.

Meine Schlussfolgerung ist, dass Albrecht Dürer bewusst die geometrisch richtige Darstellung zu Gunsten einer besseren Illustration des Prinzips aufgab. Dürer spielt mit den Bildelementen und gibt unserem Wahrnehmungssinn in einer pseudo-realen Konstruktion den Eindruck einer wahrheitsgemässen Situation. Er hat diese Illustration so überzeugend in den Block geschnitten, dass es fast fünfhundert Jahre und die Entwicklung benutzerfreundlicher Bildbearbeitungs – Software bedurfte um diese Täuschung aufzuzeigen. Der Holzschnitt, der über Jahrhunderte so erfolgreich Prinzipien der Perspektive darstellte, hat für mich dadurch nur noch mehr an Wert gewonnen, da er eine Geschichte erzählt. Eine Geschichte über die Illustration von Prinzipien der Zentralperspektive und zugleich von den Grenzen dieses Abbildungssystems. Es war zu keiner Zeit meine Absicht diesen Meister der Renaissance zu kritisieren oder herabzusetzen, Dürer selbst steht mir hier zur Seite. Er schreibt in einem Entwurf eines Vorwortes zu einem geplanten Buch (c, Strauss, 1977):”Aber mit Gottes Hilfe möchte ich das Bisschen, das ich gelernt habe publizieren, selbst auf die Gefahr, dass man mich verspottet. Es soll mir aber nichts ausmachen.”

Strauss W. (1977). (a), The literary remains of Albrecht Dürer. Translation of and comments to The Painter’s Manual by Dürer A. (1525) Page 7. New York. Abaris Books.

Strauss W. (1977). (b), The literary remains of Albrecht Dürer. Translation of and comments to The Painter’s Manual by Dürer A. (1525) Page 391. New York. Abaris Books.

Strauss W. (1977). (c), The literary remains of Albrecht Dürer. Translation of and comments to The Painter’s Manual by Dürer A. (1525) Page 8. New York. Abaris Books.

These initial outcomes had been presented at Art and Authenticity at the Australian National University in November 2006, Canberra and at the ACUADS conference in September 2006, Melbourne.

Vielen Dank an Fritz Thurnheer für die geduldige Hilfe bei der Uebersetzung dieses Textes ins Deutsche.

Did Albrecht Duerer get it wrong? A surprise discovery in one of his prints.

Link zur Deutschen Version
Also see blog: Dürer drew a man not a women – misinterpretations about the woodcut ‘Draughtsman drawing a reclining women’.

Visual research using Albrecht Dürer’s perspective illustration in the print of his woodcut Man drawing a lute 1525.

The following is the outcome of ‘teaching-led research’ and about the initial visual research project stimulated by a surprise discovery of an error in one of Albrecht Dürer’s illustration. This discovery was a result of teaching perspective drawing as part of the Design Arts Foundation program.
While searching for historical reference material for our new Core Design class, I came across the print Man Drawing a Lute, a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer.

Man drawing a Lute AD 1525

Little did I know then, that his well-known image would lead me into a web and literature search and leave me with an ever greater admiration for this master of the northern Renaissance. The discovery and the outcomes of the research are documented here in a series of images.

Albrecht Dürer, the well-known German printmaker was born in 1471 in Nuremberg a significant centre of the crafts at the time.


He was well educated and acquainted with many influential contemporaries. Journeys to Italy and the Netherlands made him a cosmopolitan of his time. It was during his second visit to Italy in 1506, that he learned about the secret art of perspective, (a, Strauss 1977).

He was famous for his engravings, wood cuts, paintings and his publications amongst them The Painters Manual.


This manual comprises four books; it is in the fourth book in the chapter about the theory of perspective where one can find the print Man Drawing a Lute. Dürer’s interest in suggesting practical solutions to capture subtle perspective distortions is evident through his inventions. In the 1525 edition of this manual, Dürer shows two apparatuses to create a perspectively correct drawing. In 1538, ten years after his death, when this Manual was republished, he had added three more contraptions. It is his reputation as an artist, his interest in geometry and inventing that lets him stand as equal next to Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.

As part of teaching perspective drawing I used Albrecht Dürer’s image with the Lute as it illustrates clearly the concept of the picture plane. To demonstrate the relationship between the image size and the distance of the picture plane to the viewpoint (eyepoint) I devised a contemporary version of Dürer’s system.


Two upright windowpanes were placed in front of each other, about a meter apart, with an object placed so it could be observed looking through both windows at the same time. A laser pointer fixed on a tripod acted as the eyepoint and was positioned in such a way, that the laser beam would point to the object shining through both image planes. If activated a red dot became visible on the object and simultaneously on both planes. Students adjusted this laser beam to scan major features of the object point-by-point and marked each point on the two transparent windows. As expected both image planes showed the same pattern of marks, one on each glass pane, but they were different in size. Both glass plates with the point scatters were then photocopied and given to the students to draw on. By connecting the right dots on each photocopy two perspectively correct images in different sizes of the scanned object appeared.


As a result of this exercise with my students, I was aware of the effect the distance of the picture plane to the eye point has on the resulting image size. While contemplating Albrecht Dürer’s image, I got suspicious about the large size of the lute sketched on the canvas in his illustration. Loading a digital version of this image into Photoshop provided all the tools needed to visually manipulate its elements. After copying and isolating the canvas onto a new layer, I then perspectively distorted it and I placed the canvas with the lute back into the frame.


The line connecting the probe to the eyepoint still correctly connects the lute through the corresponding point on the canvas to the eyepoint. However if one chooses any other feature of the lute, eg where the neck of the instrument touches the table, and connect its position with the eyepoint, one will see that it does not match with the point in Dürer’s lute on the canvas in the frame.


His drawing of the lute is much too large. By drawing a line from the neck of the lute through the corresponding location on the canvas it does not converge with the first line, in other words the lines do not have a common eyepoint.I was intrigued that Dürer, who was a master of the centre- or one-point perspective, the only perspective system known at his time, would make such a mistake. Unbelievable that the very image used to illustrate concepts of perspective drawing would fail to apply its own rules. I was further surprised that I could not find any reference to his error in this well-known image.

What led Dürer to allow this mistake to be printed? Was the frame for the canvas placed to the far right to make space for the prominent figure on the left – who I thought was the master, while the assistant marking the position of the string in the frame had to put up with working in a confined space? I began to believe that it was a sign of Dürer’s vanity, as he did not miss any opportunity to place his initials prominently in his imagery, almost as we use logos today. In the painting for the ‘Landauer Altar’, commonly referred to as ‘All Saints’ from 1511, he even added a miniature self-portrait next to his logo in the lower right corner.


However, the master himself proved me wrong. In the translated version of The Painters Manual by Walter Strauss (b, Strauss, 1977), Dürer provides explanations about his second perspective apparatus. He advices: ‘Now proceed as follows. Place a lute or another object to your liking as far from the frame as you wish, but so that it will not move while you are using it. Have your assistant then move the pointer…’. This meant that the man on the right was in fact the painter and not the assistant as I had wrongly assumed.

If the drawing of the lute, which seemingly shows a true point pattern of the instrument, was too large for the frame in its current position one can ask: ‘Where would the frame need to be shifted to, to make Dürer’s woodcut right?’ As the student’s experiment had demonstrated, the closer the picture-plane – the frame with the canvas – is to the object, the larger the object will be depicted. For Dürer’s image this would mean that the frame has to move to the left nearer to the lute. Inspecting Dürer’s print closely, I noticed that the hand of the assistant who is holding the edge of the opened canvas had an odd shape and the stretched arm was rather resting then supporting this fragile contraption. Again with the help of digital image manipulation I isolated and moved elements of the image. First I focused on three reference points on the canvas; the one Dürer used himself at the far end of the Lute, one at the end of the fingerboard and one where the neck rests on the table. Then I identified these points on the Lute itself and connected them with straight lines to the eyepoint.


Then I scaled, moved and perspectively distorted the frame in a way that it would meet the hand of the assistant. After this the canvas with the three points marked was also scaled, moved and perspectively distorted to fit back into the frame in its new position. As the frame has moved into the centre of the image, the canvas can be seen only side-on, it appears almost as a line.


However all the reference points and the projected lines suddenly match up. This proves in my view that Dürer had initially planned to place the frame in the centre of his Illustration. However, placing the frame in the centre would have made it impossible to show how to mark the position of the string connected to the assistance’s pointer within the frame and therefore diminished the clarity of the principle he wanted to illustrate.

In conclusion, if my assumption is right, that Albrecht Dürer’s decision to sacrifice the true construction within his print for the sake of a clear illustration of the principle was deliberate, I have great respect for this bold approach. It successfully illustrated in all these years some of the principles of creating a perspective drawing. He crafted this woodprint with such confidence, that it took almost five hundred years and the advent of easy to use image manipulation software to reveal its fault. Now that I am aware of its error, this print showing a ‘Man Drawing a Lute’, has even more to offer, as it tells a story about the limitations of the one point perspective and plays with the picture elements and its perceived effects.

This discovery was an immediate result of my teaching involvement with the Bachelor of Design Arts core program; it will have a direct effect on development of content for this course in the future and will stimulate further ‘teaching-led research’.

In presenting this discovery I did at no time intended to criticise or otherwise belittle this great master of the Renaissance, but even in this regard Dürer comes to my aid. In one of several drafts for the introduction of a projected book he writes (c, Strauss, 1977): ‘But with God’s help, I want to publish the little that I have learned even at the risk of being ridiculed. I shall not mind.’

Strauss W. (1977). (a), The literary remains of Albrecht Dürer. Translation of and comments to The Painter’s Manual by Dürer A. (1525) Page 7. New York. Abaris Books.Strauss W. (1977). (b), The literary remains of Albrecht Dürer. Translation of and comments to The Painter’s Manual by Dürer A. (1525) Page 391. New York. Abaris Books.Strauss W. (1977). (c), The literary remains of Albrecht Dürer. Translation of and comments to The Painter’s Manual by Dürer A. (1525) Page 8. New York. Abaris Books.

These initial outcomes had been presented at Art and Authenticity at the Australian National University in November 2006, Canberra and at the ACUADS conference in September 2006, Melbourne.

images of work