Lady in Venetian Dress Contrasted with a Nuremberg »Hausfrau«
Pen and dark greyish brown ink
Inv. No. 696
24.5 × 15.9 cm
When the young journeyman painter Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg visited Venice in the autumn of 1494, it was an experience that would change his life. The commercial centre and artistic metropolis in the Lagoon opened his eyes to the ground-breaking new achievements of northern Italian art. He met artists who were also scientists and who associated with powerful princes, who were knowledgeable about anatomy, drew from live models and had mastered the geometrical rules of centralized perspective, who read texts from classical antiquity and studied works of art from that pagan era without Christian prejudices.
It is that experience of Italy which informs this cheerful pen drawing of two women walking side by side. The one on the right is wearing a transparent veil and a low-cut classical-style dress in the latest Venetian fashion, with a girdle under the bust, while her companion on the left wears the cap, bodice, apron and dress of a contemporary Nuremberg »Hausfrau«. The mocking sidelong glance of the latter almost seems to be making fun of the stolid-looking, perhaps somewhat self-complacent Venetian lady who is carrying the opulent long train of her dress over her arm.
Executed with panache and confidence as well as meticulous care, this pen drawing bears no relationship with any painting, but it is nevertheless more than a mere costume study. The sense of location created by the few lines of shading on the ground, together with the fact that the two women are visibly taking notice of each other, makes it look like an observed scene. In reality, however, the Venetian lady was drawn first and Dürer then had the idea of placing her spirited Nuremberg counterpart at her side. The drawing thus effects an encounter between Nuremberg and Venice, southern Germany and Italy – the two artistic worlds that exerted a crucial influence on Dürer. After the experience of his first trip to Italy he dedicated himself to bringing the two into harmony, and synthesizing them in a new kind of art.