Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
This engraving of the Nuremberg humanist Willibald Pirckheimer (1470-1530) is one of a number of small portrait prints of friends and patrons which Dürer made towards the end of his life. Pirckheimer was Dürer’s closest friend. He was a respected scholar and translator, the dedicatee of an edition of Utopia and the scribe of an autobiography of Maximilian I, dictated by the Emperor himself. It was through Pirckheimer that Dürer met such men as Philip Melanchthon and the humanist Conrad Celtis. Pirckheimer loaned the money for Dürer’s trip to Venice from 1505 to 1507, and was rewarded with a series of letters describing the artist’s experiences.
In one of these letters Dürer teased Pirckheimer affectionately about his appearance: ‘nothing makes me more angry than when any one says that you are good-looking; if that were so I should become really ugly. That could make me mad’. Pirckheimer appears regularly in Dürer’s prints, as a figure in the woodcuts of the 'Bath House' and the 'Apocalypse', among others. Portrait sketches survive in Brunswick and Berlin, but neither was the direct model for the present print.
The print, showing the sitter expensively dressed in furs, was proudly distributed by Pirckheimer among his friends and used by him as a bookplate.
Catalogue entry adapted from 'The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein', London 2011