Head of a Young Woman

Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg)

Black chalk highlighted with white chalk (abraded) on green prepared paper.
7 7/8 x 5 15/16 in. (20 x 15.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975
Accession Number:
  • Description

    A supremely gifted and versatile German artist of the Renaissance period, Albrecht Dürer was a brilliant painter, draftsman, and printmaker. This head in three-quarter profile is probably one of a group of drawings made by Dürer in 1521-22 in preparation for a large "sacra conversazione", a multifigured composition in a unified space with the Virgin and Child surrounded by saints. The present drawing may have been a study for the head of Saint Catherine.

    Dürer may have learned the technique of drawing on a colored ground while in Italy in 1494-95, where drawing on prepared paper was commonplace by the second half of the fifteenth century. The technique eliminates the white of the paper and incorporates the color of the ground into the subject as an additional value. It makes the shadows appear darker, the highlights whiter, and the image more three-dimensional-steps that are ideal for translating the figure into color and into painted form. Durer took up the technique again later in his career during his stay in the Netherlands in 1520-21. Almost entirely filling the page, the "Head of a Young Woman", typical for these late studies, achieves a remarkable tangibility and clarity despite the relative economy of line.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Annotated in graphite (19th- or 20th-century handwriting) at the lower left: G-229 Dürer.

    Marking: Watermark: high crown with a cross, similar to the one found in paper used in Innsbruck in 1521 (Piccard: crown watermarks XI/34b; Piccard-Online, no. 53186)

    At lower right collector's mark of William Coningham (Lugt 476). Verso, tracing of the watermark, in black chalk.

  • Provenance

    A.F. Andréossy (?); Sir Thomas Lawrence, London, England (?); W. Coningham (Lugt 476 on the recto); art market, Paris; Philip Hofer, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Acquired by Robert Lehman from Hofer in March 1948.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History