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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    The head of a walrus, formerly in an album originally containing 167 drawings of quadrupeds; in profile to left. 1521 Pen and brown ink, with watercolour

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1521
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 211 millimetres
    • Width: 312 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Inscribed by the artist in pen and brown ink in the upper left-hand corner: “1521 / Das dosig thÿr van dem jch do das hawbt / contrefett hab ist gefangen worden / jn die niderlendischen see vnd / was XII ellen lang / brawendisch mit für fussen“, followed by his monogram; and in a later hand in pen and ink in the upper left-hand corner, "167"; and also in a later hand in pencil in the lower left-hand corner, “Fricheohus I(?)”.

        The first inscription, added subsequently by the artist, may be translated as “1521 That stupid animal of which I have portrayed the head was caught in the Netherlands sea and was twelve brabant ells long with four feet” (Unverfehrt claims that the reading of 'dosig' (dösendes) as stupid or dozy is incorrect, and that it should be inferred as 'dasig' or 'hiesig' meaning 'represented here').
  • Curator's comments

    An entry in the Chronicles of London for 1456 records an unusual catch of 'iiii great ffyshes', a walrus ('mors maryne') a swordfish and two whales in the Thames estuary. In Dürer's day, walruses were to be found on the north coastal regions of the North Sea, mostly in Norway, and must have seemed very exotic to a citizen of one of the most landlocked cities of Europe. Dürer makes no reference to any walruses in his diary of 1520-21, although he could have seen one during his stay in the Netherlands, particularly when he visited the coastal town of Bergen op Zoom and the islands of Zeeland during December 1520. He made this journey partly in anticipation of seeing another marine curiosity: 'a whale at Zierikzee in Zeeland, blown up on land by a great Fortuna and storm wind, that is much more than 100 fathoms long' (Goris and Marlier, p. 176). Dürer's drawing represents a dead, perhaps preserved animal, such as the salted head of a walrus sent by the Norwegian archbishop Erik Walkendorf to Pope Leo X in 1520, which was displayed in Strasbourg town hall in December 1519 with a description noting that it was called 'cetus dentatus' and was thought to be the male form of a whale (see V. Kiparski, 'L'Histoire du morse', Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae, Ser.B. 73,3. Helsinki, 1952, pp.46-47; Seaver, op cit). However, it is unlikely that Dürer's drawing represents Walkendorf's specimen: he would, surely, have added the name of the creature if he knew it in his inscription on the sheet, which in any case is dated the following year, 1521. In addition, the length of the animal given in the text which accompanies Konrad Gesner's woodcut after the 1520 head is different (Historiae Animalium, 1560, p.178) to that noted by Dürer here. Unverfehrt (2007) commented that the length given by Dürer for the animal, twelve brabant ells, is an overstatement; this equates to just over eight metres, whereas the length of a walrus reaches a maximum of 3.6 metres. Dürer referred to this drawing in a later composition study of a 'Virgin and Child with Eight Saints', dated 1522, where it appears in reverse, representing the head of a dragon held on a lead by St Margaret (Musée Bonnat, Bayonne; Strauss 1522/1).

    For a description of the album see Curator's Comment in SL,5261.1. From album SL,5261.1 to 167.

    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. 219: 'Lippmann, part xxiii, pp. 16f., no. 290, repr.; Conway, p. 42, no. 776; Pauli, p. 39, no. 1104; Veth and Muller, i, p. 37, no. xxxvii, repr.; BM Guide, 1928, p. 28, no. 275; Flechsig, Dürer, ii, pp. 234, 250; Tietze, iii, pp. 32f., no. 850, repr.; Winkler, Dürer, iv, p. 42, no. 823, repr.; Panofsky, ii, p. 132, no. 1365; Rupprich, i, p. 209, no. 69; Winkler, Leben, p. 311; Rowlands, Dürer, pp. 40f., no. 266; Goris and Marlier, p. 186, no. 73, repr.; Strauss, iv, p. 2048, no. 1521/27, repr.; BM Animals in Art, p. 128, no. 174, repr.; BM Dürer and Holbein, p. 102, no. 74, repr.'

    Further lit: J.M. Massing in Art in the Age of Exploration Circa 1492, Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1991-2, edited by J.A. Levenson pp.300f, no.207; K. Seaver, 'A very common and usual trade', British Library Journal, 22, 1996, pp.9-11; G.Bartrum, 'Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy', BM 2002-3, no. 153; G. Unverfehrt, 'Da sah ich viel köstliche Dinge': Albrecht Dürers Reise in der Niederlande, Göttingen, 2007, p.129; M. Sellink in 'From Van Eyck to Dürer', exhibition catalogue edited by Till-Holger Borchert, Groeningemuseum, Bruges, 2010, p.433, no. 242.

    This drawing was issued as a coloured facsimile by the British Museum in 'Reproductions of Drawings by Old Masters in the British Museum', Part I, Published by the Trustees, in 1888 where it was number XXIII and described there as 'Albrecht Dürer, Study of the Head of a Walrus.'


  • Bibliography

    • Strauss 1974 1521/27 bibliographic details
    • Rowlands 1993 219 bibliographic details
    • Winkler 1936-9 823 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (German Roy XVIc)

  • Exhibition history

    1928 BM London, Guide Woodcuts, Drawings of A. Dürer, no. 275
    1960 BM, Sloane Drawings, (no cat.) 1971 BM, Dürer, no. 266 1977/8 Dec-Feb, BM, 'Animals in Art' cat no. 174 1988 July-Oct, BM, Age of Dürer & Holbein, no.74 1991/2 Washington, National Gallery of Art, Age of Exploration, no.207 2002/3 Dec-Mar, BM, Dürer and his Legacy, no. 153
    2010/11 Oct-Jan, Brugge, Groeningemuseum, From Van Eyck to Dürer

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    From the album Sloane 5261, which was transferred from the Department of Manuscripts to P&D 17 November 1886 (see note on fly-leaf of album). For a description of the album, see Curator's Comment in SL,5261.1 (PDB).

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Head of a walrus, formerly in an album originally containing 167 drawings of quadrupeds; in profile to l. 1521 Pen and brown ink, with watercolour


Head of a walrus, formerly in an album originally containing 167 drawings of quadrupeds; in profile to l. 1521 Pen and brown ink, with watercolour

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