Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
The Virgin and Child on a grassy bank, crowned by an angel
This beautiful drawing shows the Virgin sitting calmly on a turf bench, with the Christ Child on a cushion on her knee. Above, an elegantly twisting angel bears a tall crown. The Child has a flower in his right hand, while a small bird flies around his head, tied to a cord held in the Child’s left hand. The bird is probably a goldfinch, which was believed to have been splashed with Christ’s blood on the road to Calvary, retaining a red spot around its beak. The ability of Dürer to convey complicated forms using nothing but lines is particularly apparent here. The thick folds of the Virgin’s skirt are skilfully indicated by blocks of hatching, while the curves of her cheeks are shown in a series of radiating strokes. Dürer has lightly indicated a port and hills behind, a landscape similar to that of his engraving of The Holy Family made 20 years earlier.
The purpose of the drawing is not known, and it does not appear to have been used for a surviving print or painting. It may have been made as a stock workshop image or as an early idea that was later discarded. Dürer returned to the theme of the Virgin and Child throughout his career and appears to have been particularly interested in the motif from 1515 to 1521, when he produced a number of versions of the subject. An early copy of the drawing, dated 1524, is in the University Library at Erlangen.
Catalogue entry adapted from The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein, London 2011