Spectacular find: Possible Dürer treasure discovered in ancient book

An old book has been lying in the library in Oldenburg for 230 years.

Spectacular find: Possible Dürer treasure discovered in ancient book

An old book has been lying in the library in Oldenburg for 230 years. Only now are researchers realizing that a small image in it may be a great treasure of the Renaissance. Now the Albrecht Dürer experts are in demand.

A previously unknown book illustration, which may have been created by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer, has been discovered in the Oldenburg State Library. The library spoke of a spectacular find. The colored miniature was presented to the public in Oldenburg on Tuesday evening in the presence of the Lower Saxony CDU Science Minister Björn Thümler.

The small work of art, just 16.5 by 6 centimeters in size, shows two putti on dolphin-like sea creatures. In the middle is the coat of arms of the Nuremberg scholar Willibald Pirckheimer (1470-1530). The image adorns the first page of a Greek text printed by the Venetian printer and publisher Aldus Manutius (1450-1515). The book belonged to Pirckheimer's library.

Dürer (1471-1528) and Pirckheimer were close friends. It is documented that in 1634 Pirckheimer's heirs had sold 14 books with alleged illustrations by the master to a collector in the Netherlands. Six of these books are known, the Oldenburg book is demonstrably the seventh in the series. Because of this tradition, experts in Oldenburg consider it very likely that the miniature came from Dürer's hand. A comparative art-historical study is still pending, it said.

Dürer's paintings, graphics and designs for everyday objects are well known, and the most important German artist of the Renaissance also illustrated books. In the professional world, however, there are discussions as to whether this also applies to the Pirckheimer books.

"The proximity to Dürer is out of the question," said Matthias Weniger from the Bavarian National Museum in Munich. But he would have found it more sensible to first carry out a comparative art-historical study before mentioning the spectacular name of Dürer. Some external Dürer experts want to take a look at the miniature before commenting on the Oldenburg argument.

The small picture was discovered while researching prints by the publisher Aldus Manutius in the state library. The so-called Aldinen Collection in Oldenburg brings together 263 of his works, which are regarded as evidence of the early history of printing in Europe. The Pirckheimer book came to the Ducal Library in Oldenburg (today the State Library) in 1791. But the possible art-historical significance of the small picture at the bottom of page one remained unrecognized for more than 230 years.

(This article was first published on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.)

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