The Holy Family with the Dragonfly

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528)

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Before Dürer's time, printmaking was largely an anonymous craft. By adding his monogram to this engraving, the 24-year-old Dürer was not only taking ownership of this work, but announcing it to the world.

Dürer's mastery of engraving was immediately acknowledged by the appearance of copies of most of his images not only in Germany but also in Italy, forcing Dürer to travel to Venice in 1505 to seek copyright protection.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

By simple touch and beatific look, Albrecht Dürer connected mother to child with genuine affection. Mary and the infant Jesus correspond humbly in the everyday world of Dürer's Germany of 1495, rather than regally in a heavenly realm as had been the tradition in Christian art. Standard Christian symbols-a sleeping Joseph to signify Mary's perpetual virginity and a small dragonfly (or butterfly) at the lower right to foreshadow Christ's ultimate death and resurrection-are incorporated naturally into a vast and rich landscape. Stone buildings, waving grasses, leafy trees, wooden fences, and pliant fabrics are each articulated with confidently hatched lines, evidence of Dürer's mastery of forms and textures even early in his career.

The Virgin with the Dragonfly, engraved when Dürer was not yet twenty-five, is his first monogrammed print. By adding his initials, he claimed authorship and distinguished himself from the predominantly anonymous journeymen engravers of the preceding half-century. Dürer would become the first artist of genius whose international reputation was founded on his graphic work. The appearance of pirated versions of The Virgin with the Dragonfly, engraved elsewhere in Germany and Italy within five years of publication of the original, is evidence of Dürer's impact on his contemporaries.

The merchants of Italy, France, and Spain are purchasing Dürer's engravings as models for the painters of their homelands.
-Theologian Johannes Cochlaeus, 1512

Purchased with money from the Kiss of the Siren Fund for the John Herron Art Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields at Newfields, in 1958.

Object Information

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528)
creation date
about 1495
ink on paper, engraving
9-7/16 x 7-3/8 in. (sheet)
accession number
credit line
Kiss of the Siren Fund
Public Domain
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

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