- Museum number
Gothic table fountain; with base on which are various figures including some carrying weapons, a man with drum and a shepherd, a stem with twisting plant forms rising to a basin and several tiers. 1495-1500
Pen and brown ink, with watercolour and touched with red chalk; on three conjoined sheets
- Production date
Height: 560 millimetres
Width: 358 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This is the largest and most impressive design for an elaborate piece of silver metalwork by any artist to have survived from the period around 1500. It is executed in a typically late Gothic style, seen in the pointed shape of the heavy base, the entwined boughs and the stylised vegetation supporting the large central bowl and the intricate canopy above. The central column is set to the rear of the base which indicates that the lower section was to be supported against a wall or side-board. The structure is enlivened with numerous figures: below, soldiers, huntsmen and peasants engage in everyday pursuits, while figures on the upper parts eject liquid into a large central basin and a smaller bowl above it. Like a similar design by Dürer in the Ashmolean (inv.no 1938.25) the colouring indicates that the piece would have been gilded and decorated with paint or enamel. The verso of the sheet is inscribed extensively in a contemporary hand with notes on the design and mechanism of the fountain. They give details of the height of the water or wine spouting from the various small figures. The spouting jets of the upper section are coloured with blue wash, so this part would have been filled with white wine or water. The jets spouting from beneath the main bowl are coloured red, for red wine. Table- fountains were a traditional form of metalwork going back to the thirteenth century and were originally conceived to provide entertainment at court festivities although by this period they had become fashionable among the wealthy middle class. They were filled with water or wine and operated by means of ingenious pressure tubes. Like the drawing in the Ashmolean and a further drawing in the BM, Sl.5218.79, Dürer probably designed this piece to be executed by his father-in-law, Hans Frey. Rowlands noted that the first mention of a drawing similar to Sl,5218.83 was of one in the Imhoff Collection (Heller, p. 84, no. 95). But as this was drawn on vellum, it must be a copy of this sheet, and according to Anzelewsky and Mielke is now in Berlin (Kupferstichkabinett, KdZ. 766; Anzelewsky and Mielke, p. 127, no. 123, repr. attributed to Hans von Kulmbach.
Jörg Rasmussen published in 1976 a detailed watercolour in an album recording the appearance of a tabernacle in the collection of reliquaries belonging to Cardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg (1490-1545) when he was Archbishop of Magdeburg in Halle ( from 1513). The watercolour of shows that Dürer's magnificent design of a table-fountain must have been executed, and that soon after its construction the upper part was adapted into a silver- gilt tabernacle. Along with other reliquaries in the Cardinal's collection, the tabernacle has not survived but the album of watercolours, which was produced in about 1526-7, is today in the Schloss und Stiftsbibliothek, Aschaffenburg, (Codex 350). Only the upper section, from the convex support in the large bowl with figures on low columns supporting the small bowl up to the crowning figure of a banner-bearer, was used for the conversion. The main structure is very close to Dürer's design. A figure of Christ as the Man of Sorrows replaced the children ejecting wine on the central column, the figures underneath the bowl were substituted with children holding instruments of the Passion, and the soldier on the finial was converted into a figure of St Maurice. The tabernacle is also represented in a cruder form in a woodcut designed by Dürer's pupil, Wolf Traut in the Hallesche Heiligthumsbuch of 1520. The circumstances of the alteration are not recorded. It is known that Dürer worked for Cardinal Albrecht later in his career and that most of the collection of reliquaries had been formed by the Cardinal's predecessor as Archbishop of Magdeburg, Ernst of Saxony, a brother of Friedrich the Wise, the Elector of Saxony, of whom Dürer engraved a portrait (Hollstein 102). The inventory of Archbishop Ernst included 'a silver fountain' ('ein silbern bronn') in a large court room ('Grosse Hofstube') which Rasmussen has conjectured may have been Dürer's large table-fountain, but there is no evidence to substantiate this.
For a discussion of the watercolour in the album of reliquaries from Halle, see U. Timann, 'Bemerkungen zum Halleschen Heiltum' in the Halle exhibition catalogue, 2006, pp.265-69 (essays volume); and vol 1, cat.no 27.
Lit from J. Rowlands 'Drawings by German Artists and Artists from German-speaking regions of Europe in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum: the Fifteenth Century, and the Sixteenth Century by Artists born before 1530', London, BM Press, 1993, no. 146: Waagen, Treasures, i, p. 230, no. 83; Hausmann, Naumann's Archiv, p. 38, no. 83; Hausmann, p. 109, no. 77; V. Scherer, Die Ornamentik bei Albrecht Dürer, Strassburg, 1902, p. 90; Lippmann, part xxiii, p. 4, no. 223, repr.; W. v. Seidlitz, Prussian Jahrbuch, xxviii, 1907, p. 19; Tietze, i, p. 125, no. A 122, repr.; BM Guide, 1928, p. 20, no. 193; Winkler, Dürer, i, pp. 163f, no. 233, repr.; J.H. Whitfield, OMD, xiii, no. 51, 1938, pp. 31f, repr.; Panofsky, ii, p. 147, no. 1557; Manchester, German Art, pp. 46f, no. 114; Kohlhaussen, pp. 258-60, repr.; Rowlands, Dürer, p. 13, no. 69; Nuremberg, Dürer, 1971, p. 376, under no. 691; Strauss, i, p. 456, no. 1499/1 repr.; Nuremberg, Gothic & Renaissance, p. 283, under no. 113; BM Dürer and Holbein, pp. 72ff, no. 47, repr.
Additional lit: 'R.W. Lightbown, Apollo, July, 1971, pp. 33f; J. Rasmussen, Münchener Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst , xxvii, 1976, pp. 75 ff.; Hernmarck, p.136, no.274; G. Bartrum, 'Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy', London, British Museum, 2002, no. 62; Thomas Schauerte, 'Der Kardinal Albrecht von Brandenburg, exh.cat. Halle, Stiftung Moritzburg, 2006, vol. 1, no.143; J. Chipps Smith in 'The Essential Dürer' edited by L. Silver and J. Chipps Smith, Philadelphia, 2010, pp.83f; D.Hess and T.Eser (ed) 'Der frühe Dürer', exhibition catalogue, Nuremberg Germanisches Nationalmusuem, 2012, p.481, no 157
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1928 BM London, Guide Woodcuts, Drawings of A. Dürer, no. 193
1960 BM, Sloane Drawings, (no cat.)
1971 BM, Dürer, no.69
1984 BM, Master Drawings & Watercolours, no.41
1988 Jul-Oct, BM, Age of Dürer & Holbein, no. 47
2002/3 Dec-Mar, BM, Dürer and his Legacy, no. 62
2006 Sep-Nov, Halle, Stiftung Moritzburg, Kardinal Albrecht
2012 23 May- 2 Sept, Nuremberg, Germ. Nationalmuseum, Early Dürer
EMBARGO UNTIL 2021
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: C,07.83