Exciting discovery of Dürer sketch made during study of drawings at the Ashmolean Museum

Friday 17th Mar 2023, 10.36am

A drawing in the Ashmolean’s collections that has now been attributed to Albrecht Dürer is just one of the exciting new discoveries made during a research project focusing on the museum’s German old master drawings.

This 12-month project aimed to research and catalogue more than 300 drawings created by German speaking artists between 1450 and 1800 as part of the Getty-funded German Drawings Research Project.

The Ashmolean Museum’s collections hold exceptional examples of design drawings by some of the most famous German artists including Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger, Albrecht Altdorfer, Urs Graf and Matthias Grünewald among others.

These works rank amongst the greatest examples of German drawings worldwide but had not yet been fully studied and required much-needed research into the drawings’ attribution, iconography and function.

With this research project, we want to shed new light on our German collections and make them more accessible to visitors worldwide

An Van Camp, Curator of Northern European Art

Design drawings were intended as preparatory sketches and German drawings were used as designs for the production of artworks in metal, glass, and wood, as well as other artworks on paper, such as prints and book illustrations.

Created against the backdrop of the Holy Roman Empire and the turbulent Reformation, the drawings reveal the creative process of the artists. They also provide clues as to how these designs were transformed into items by other artists.

In the spotlight

An Van Camp, Curator of Northern European Art at the Ashmolean Museum, explains in a new film about the project: ‘When you walk through the Ashmolean galleries, you’ll see lots of German artworks on display. But the drawings, because they’re so fragile, they have to be kept in our study room, and so they’re not very well known to the public.

‘With this project, we’re finally able to put them in the spotlight, to share our research findings and to make them accessible for everyone to enjoy.

‘We really wanted to focus on one specific type of drawings. And those are the design drawings because they explore how the artist works, how he prepares other works of art, other products.

‘What’s amazing about this project is, with the funding of the Getty Foundation, we were able to recruit a project curator Dr Mailena Mallach and we’ve built this amazingly friendly network with specialists from different fields across the world, and that has really enriched the findings that we’ve made about the German drawings in our collection.’

Watch a new film about the research project, German Design Drawings explored at the Ashmolean Museum, in full below:

An Van Camp continues: ‘With this research project, we want to shed new light on our German collections and make them more accessible to visitors worldwide. The next steps will be to share all our new discoveries and research findings with you all, and so we’ll make everything available online.’

Information about 14 specific artworks has already been shared online here.

Exciting discoveries

The nude couple with the coat of arms of Willibald Pirckheimer, about 1505-6, Albrecht Dürer, pen in brown ink on laid paper.Albrecht Dürer’s nude couple © Ashmolean Museum

Nude couple with the coat of arms of Willibald Pirckheimer, about 1505-6, Albrecht Dürer, pen in brown ink on laid paper. 7.8 x 6.3 cm. WA.OA425 © Ashmolean Museum

Among the discoveries made during the research:

  • A drawing which for years lay unidentified in the Ashmolean’s collections can now be attributed to famous German artist Albrecht Dürer. It had been kept in an archival box containing an eclectic group of loose, anonymous drawings. Drawn in pen and brown ink, the tiny drawing shows a nude couple. The couple stands next to a heraldic shield bearing a coat of arms with a stylised tree with large roots, and the initials ‘AD’ written in the crown of the tree. Find out more.
  • A stained glass panel at Castle Lodge in Ludlow, Shropshire, was matched to a drawing the Ashmolean holds by Hans Holbein the Younger. Find out more.
  • And it has been found that the Ashmolean’s ‘study of Eve’ drawing, also by Dürer, is likely the earliest known study he created for his famous engraving ‘The Temptation in the Garden of Eden’. Find out more.

The project was funded by the Getty Foundation’s The Paper Project: Prints and Drawings Curatorship in the 21st Century, with additional funding from the Oxford-Berlin Research Partnership.

Find out more: GERMAN DRAWINGS DIGITAL PROJECT | Ashmolean Museum