Chapter 6. The Case of the Doubtful Dürer
Recently, while attending an Art and Antiques fair, I came across what appeared to be a framed engraving by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) entitled, Christ on the Cross. I didnt think too much of it, as reproductions of Dürers graphic work are quite common and obtainable from books or a good quality photocopier.
Albrecht Dürer, Christ on the Cross
I continued wandering through the show until it struck me that the engraving was of a size common to originals of Dürers work, as they were meant to be carried as devotional pieces, possibly during pilgrimages to sacred sites throughout Europe.
Excitedly, I hurried back to the dealer to find that the engraving was still for sale and asked if I could inspect it. Although the print was under glass I was able to determine that it was indeed an engraving, evidenced by the raised lines of dark ink sitting on the paper. I could also see the resulting perimeter edge impression of the plate where it had been forced into the paper. Was this an original 1508 engraving by Albrecht Dürer?
I purchased the framed print for a nominal sum and took it to my studio where, anxiously, I removed it from the frame.
Further inspection revealed that it was indeed an engraving, however, unfortunately, with the addition of full margins. (The original engravings of this print would have been trimmed quite close to the image and would definitely not have had margins).
I also came across three additional attributes, whose existence I was not unhappy to discover. (By now I had determined that this print was not an original). Firstly, the printed number 728 appeared in the lower left hand corner, close to the paper edge; secondly, on the back appeared a circular stamp with text in German, which read, Facsimile Reproduction Staatsdruckerei Berlin; and thirdly, a blind-stamp, lower right of a stylized eagles head in the centre of circular text read Staatsdruckerei Berlin.
I contacted the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and was informed that this was a facsimile reproduction most likely made via a helio-gravure process. This involves transferring a photograph of the image onto a metal plate. It was probably a page of a 19th Century art periodical printed by a German national printer (Staatsdruckerei).
Further research revealed that according to Strauss, (The Complete Engravings, Etchings and Dry-points of Albrecht Dürer, New York 1972), Dürer mentions in the diary of his trip to the Netherlands that he gave the Factor of Portugal an impression of this engraving at Antwerp on August 20, 1520.
In November 2001, an impression of the same engraving sold at Swan Galleries, New York for $12,650 u.s., double its high-end presale limit, perhaps partly due to the belief that this was the same print given by Dürer to the Factor.
Next: The Case of the Misattributed Emily Carr.