Albrecht Dürer, Head of a Woman, a drawing

Germany, AD 1520

This study is drawn with a brush in black and grey bodycolour. The light is strongly shown by white heightening when it falls onto the woman's face and hair. The light falls down the exact centre of her face. On the left, only the protruding eyelid and cheek bone catch the light. Her eyes are closed and her head centred, its outline strongly marked by black line and silhouette.

Some scholars have argued that her closed eyes and her ideal face reflect Dürer's construction of an ideal, and not a real head studied from life. Yet the wisps of hair, large neck and fur collar suggest that he may actually have drawn from a model. It may be, however, that this drawing is based on a real model and then idealized.

By 1520, the date of this drawing, Dürer was deeply interested in the ideal, human form. He had made numerous life studies, both male and female. He had also travelled to Italy and studied classical sculptures and their proportions. For Dürer, the chief purpose of these theoretical studies was to discover the mathematical proportions of the ideal human body. These he would then use in his paintings (portraits, altarpieces and images of saints) and prints. From his research, he wrote an important treatise, Four Books on Human Proportion. The first Book was published in Nuremberg in 1528 and the remainder after his death.

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More information


J. Rowlands with G. Bartrum, The age of Dürer and Holbein: (London, The British Museum Press, 1988)

J. Rowlands and G. Bartrum, Drawings by German artists in, 2 vols. (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)

J.C. Hutchison, Albrecht Dürer: a biography (Princeton University Press, 1990)

E. Panofsky, Life and art of Albrecht Dürer, 4th ed. (Princeton University Press, 1955)


Height: 324.000 mm
Width: 228.000 mm

Museum number

PD SL 5218-43



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