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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
An engraving of St Anthony, seated and reading a book.
St Anthony the Great was a popular object of devotion. A learned hermit, he was believed to be able to alleviate a number of skin complaints, a series of which were described as ‘St Anthony’s fire’. Monks of the Order of St Anthony were a common sight in medieval times, and the bells they used to request alms became one of the saint’s attributes. This small print shows St Anthony seated on the ground, stooping forwards to read a little book. His pilgrim’s hat lies to his left, and his symbols, a cross and a bell, are placed to his right. A looming landscape in the background echoes the saint’s pose. The scene is one of calm concentration - even the water of the river by which Anthony sits is still - and Dürer has captured the saint’s absorption by suggesting that he is absent-mindedly flexing his toes as he reads.
For this engraving, Dürer reused the landscape he had drawn a number of years earlier in the 'Pupila Augusta'. This is seen in the St Anthony print in reverse, due to the nature of printmaking, which reverses the design as it is drawn onto the plate or block. Dürer did not just copy his earlier drawing, however, but reworked areas of the 'Pupila Augusta' in a lighter brown ink in preparation for the print. Since the St Anthony drawing does not feature the large foreground tree, Dürer returned to the drawing to plan the lines of the buildings behind the trunk, and also altered the angle of a roof to the right.
Catalogue entry adapted from 'The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein', London 2011