The New Choir of St Gertrudis in Bergen op Zoom
Silver point on prepared paper
Inv. No. 15269
12.7 × 18.8 cm
When Albrecht Dürer travelled to the Netherlands in 1520/21 at the age of fifty, he documented – and reflected on – his journey in a diary, numerous drawings and a special sketchbook in which he drew exclusively in silver point. The latter technique may have seemed to him a practical one for use when travelling (there is no need for a bottle of ink, as with pen drawing), and it is moreover a particularly sensitive medium which is not easy to master and produces an exquisite effect. Comments in his diary suggest that Dürer valued his silver-point sketchbook especially highly. At some later point it was divided up, and the fifteen surviving pages are now scattered among various collections. One of them is in the possession of the Städel Museum’s Department of Prints and Drawings. The front of this sheet shows the massive, towering elements of the unfinished choir – its construction was still in progress – of the Church of St. Gertrudis in Bergen op Zoom, Holland. Dürer spent several days in that town in December 1520 on his way from Antwerp to Zeeland, where he hoped to view a beached whale. In this drawing he is concerned not with the descriptive portrayal of a construction site but with the monumental architectural forms, whose geometric structure and spatial arrangement he captures with great precision, but without making the subject appear dry. At the same time, the fine and disciplined silver-point lines convey a vivid impression of the surfaces with their differing patterns of brickwork. On the reverse, two portraits are placed side by side, though they were executed on quite different occasions. Dürer inscribed the male portrait with the name »Marx Ulstat«. It shows Markus Ulstett, an Augsburg merchant and fellow passenger whose »likeness« Dürer drew »at sea«, i. e. on the journey by ship to Zeeland. Weeks later, in February 1521 he placed alongside that drawing the portrait of the »beautiful young woman of Antwerp«, the daughter of an acquaintance whose beauty impressed him so greatly that he made other drawings of her besides this one. Alongside the almost casually realistic rendering of Markus Ulstett, the young woman’s intense gaze, the larger scale of her portrait and the more sophisticated draughtsmanship with which it was executed combine to make her appear exalted and idealized. The juxtaposition of the two heads emphasizes the difference. Dürer seems to have made very deliberate choices in grouping his travel sketches, creating many such expressive and intriguing juxtapositions.