Germany, miniature by Albrecht Dürer discovered in Oldenburg library

A rare miniature by Albrecht Dürer has been discovered in Germany, in the Oldenburg Library. It is part of a series of miniatures by the great German artist of which only six examples were known until now.

Important discovery in Germany, in the Landesbibliothek in Oldenburg, where a miniature by Albrecht Dürer (Nuremberg, 1471 - 1528) was found. It is an image depicting two putti on dolphin-like sea creatures, with a coat of arms in the center. The miniature is just under 16 cm wide and 6.5 cm high, and according to the Oldenburg Landesbibliothek it is “an extraordinary” and “spectacular discovery.”

The miniature decorates the first page of a Greek text printed in Venice in 1502 by Aldo Manuzio (Bassiano, 1449 - Venice, 1515) and was discovered as part of a research project on the Oldenburg library’s aldine collection. The book probably belonged to the famous humanist Willibald Pirckheimer (Eichstätt, 1470 - Nuremberg, 1530), who can be identified on the basis of the coat of arms. Moreover, the Oldenburg volume has been successfully identified as one of 14 valuable books that Pirckheimer’s heirs sold to a Dutch collector in 1634. The price was high because all of these books contained an autograph miniature by Albrecht Dürer on the title page. So far only six have been identified. The Oldenburg miniature is described exactly in the 1634 historical source and is thus undoubtedly, the library explains, the seventh Dürer miniature in this series to be rediscovered. The discovery bears the signatures of four scholars-Sven Behnke, Matthias Bley, Matthias Bollmeyer, and Detlef Haberland. The Dürer miniature and other research findings were presented on June 21 by Lower Saxony’s Science Minister Björn Thümler and project manager Professor Detlef Haberland. The book with Dürer’s miniature can be seen on display in Oldenburg’s Landesbibliothek until July 16.

“The sensational finding of the Dürer miniature in the Landesbibliothek in Oldenburg,” says Thümler, "shows that we in Lower Saxony hold extraordinary collections of the highest standard and show what unknown treasures sleep in our libraries. There is still a lot of potential here, for example for research cooperation between libraries and universities. With the program Pro*Niedersachsen - Cultural Heritage - Collections and Objects, the state specifically promotes research on Lower Saxony’s cultural treasures. The project on aldines clearly shows that we are on the right track with the research program and are providing new impetus to develop and research our cultural heritage in Lower Saxony and make it accessible to the public."

As part of the Pro*Niedersachsen project, all 263 aldines in the Oldenburg State Library have been systematically indexed and scientifically described for the first time as of October 2020. Most of them come from the book collection of Hanover official Georg Friedrich Brandes (1719 - 1791), which Duke Peter I purchased for Oldenburg in 1790. “Aldo Manuzio was highly educated and his publishing house combined humanistic culture and innovation with excellence in craftsmanship and aesthetics,” Professor Haberland explains. “For this reason, his prints were already highly prized by contemporaries with scientific and bibliophilic interests. Since Pirckheimer devoted himself to translating numerous Greek texts into Latin between 1502 and 1505, he probably also purchased Greek volumes from Aldo Manuzio’s print shop during this period.”

The miniature may have been painted in the book only after 1504, the year of Pirckheimer’s wife’s death, because her coat of arms is missing there. It is very likely that Dürer actually made the miniature himself because of his personal friendship with Pirckheimer. However, a comparative art historical study has not yet been done, as Sven Behnke and Matthias Bollmeyer point out.

The fate of the Oldenburg aldina after it was sold by the Pirckheimer heirs in 1634 has not yet been fully studied. In the mid-eighteenth century, according to a search by Matthias Bley in the library of Hieronymus de Wilhem, a clergyman from a wealthy Amsterdam merchant family commissioned a red Morocco leather binding with gold embossing, executed in the Leiden Bookbindery between 1747 and 1752. In 1769, Georg Friedrich Brandes purchased the volume at a large book auction in The Hague. After his death in 1791, the book came to Oldenburg along with his entire library and became part of the ducal public library opened in 1792, today’s Landesbibliothek. Then, until 2021 the book had been forgotten. But even before the mid-18th century, knowledge about Albrecht Dürer as a miniature artist and his collaboration with Willibald Pirckheimer had been lost. Now, a piece of this knowledge has finally been recovered.

Germany, miniature by Albrecht Dürer discovered in Oldenburg library
Germany, miniature by Albrecht Dürer discovered in Oldenburg library

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