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print

  • Object type

  • Museum number

    E,2.119

  • Description

    The Four Witches; a group of four nude women standing underneath a sphere inscribed with the letters "O.G.H". 1497 Engraving

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1497
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 191 millimetres
    • Width: 133 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Signed and dated in the plate.
  • Curator's comments

    The subject of this work, the earliest dated engraving by Dürer, has remained something of a puzzle. The date, 1497, is inscribed on a mysterious hanging sphere with the letters O.G.H. underneath. Numerous interpretations have been given to these letters, but given that the presence of the devil on the left and the human skull and bone on the floor indicate that the women are engaged in some fiendish activity, ' O Gott hüte' (O God protect) as Joachim von Sandrart first suggested in 1675 is a reasonable explanation. Sandrart first expressed the opinion that the women represent a group of witches. The subject may be linked to a description in a deeply mysogynist and highly popular guide to witch-hunting, the Malleus maleficarum (‘The Witches’ Hammer’ ) written by Dominican inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger and first published in Strasbourg in 1487. It was printed in Nuremberg by Dürer’s godfather, Anton Koberger in 1494 and again in1496, the year before this print was made (for more on the witchcraft connection, see D. Petherbridge, 'Witches and Wicked Bodies', Edinburgh, National Galleries of Art, 2013, no.1). There is also a tradition going back to the sixteenth century of interpreting the print as a mythological scene. By altering the lettering on the sphere to 'Detur Pulchrior' ( ‘To the fairest’) Nicoletto da Modena intended his reversed copy of the print ( dated 1500) in which the devil and the bones are omitted, to represent a 'Judgement of Paris' (see A.M.Hind, 'Early Italian Engraving', v, p.134). Karel van Mander described the print as ‘three or four naked women, after the type of the Three Graces’ and mistakenly assumed that Dürer's print was copied after the engraving by Israhel van Meckenem (cat.no. 177; see van Mander, I, p.90). The poses of the figures are reminiscent of classical sculpture - although in 1497 Dürer would not yet have known the antique ‘Three Graces’, which was first displayed in Siena in 1507. Various early copies and variants, such as Sebald Beham’s 'Three Naked Women and Death' (Bartsch 42) of c.1525-7 attest to the large appeal of this print.

    Lit: J. Poesch, 'Sources for two Dürer enigmas', Art Bulletin, xlvi, 1964, pp.78ff; 'Albrecht Dürer and his Legacy', exh cat BM 2002-3, no.176

    More 

  • Bibliography

    • Dodgson 1926 14 bibliographic details
    • Meder 1932 69.a bibliographic details
    • Schoch 2001-04 I.17 bibliographic details
    • Bartsch VII.89.75 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (German XVIc Mounted Roy)

  • Exhibition history

    2011 Feb-May, London, National Gallery, Jan Gossaert's Renaissance
    2014-15 Sept.-Jan. London, BM, Witches and Wicked Bodies

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date

    1834

  • Acquisition notes

    Bequeathed by Joseph Nollekens, subject to a life interest to Francis Douce, 1834.

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number

    E,2.119

The Four Witches; a group of four nude women standing underneath a sphere inscribed with the letters "O.G.H".  1497  Engraving

The Four Witches; a group of four nude women standing underneath a sphere inscribed with the letters "O.G.H". 1497 Engraving

Image description

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