What Does St. Anthony Read?

This superb, richly inked Meder a impression of Durer’s St. Anthony Reading is estimated at $60,000 to $90,000.

Swann Galleries remains the only U.S. auction house to devote regular sales to Old Master Prints. We are pleased to offer important examples by Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt van Rijn in our April 29 auction of Old Master Through Modern Prints. These include Dürer’s St. Anthony Reading from 1519. 

This engraving of St. Anthony dates from the height of Dürer’s career, and shows the saint hunched, reading on the outskirts of a fortified city. The city–identified by art historian Tietze as combining elements of Trent, Innsbruck and Nuremberg–has also been recognized by Dürer scholar Thausing as adopted from a drawing titled Pvpila Avgvsta that Dürer had created some 20 years earlier. 

This depiction in stark contrast to other contemporaneous Renaissance images of St. Anthony, which more commonly showed the saint tormented by demons, under Satan’s temptation. 

Dürer must have been particularly proud of this engraving, as he gave it as a gift–along with impressions of his more famous St. Jerome–to several prominent figures on at least six occasions during his 1520-21 trip to the low countries. In his diary entry for September 3, 1529 from Antwerp, he wrote, “I gave Wilhelm Hauenhut, equerry of Duke Frederick Palatine, an engraved St. Jerome and the two new half-sheets: The Virgin and Anthoni. 

Scholars from Panofsky onward have remarked on the “modern” aspect of the composition, in which the huddled form of Saint Anthony echoes that of the walled city behind him. “The scenery almost dominates the composition. It is here a ‘cubistic’ phenomenon, exclusively composed of such clear-cut stereometric solids as prisms, cubes, pyramids, and cylinders which bring to mind a cluster of crystals,” Panofsky wrote in 1943. In this context, one cannot help but to recall Cezanne’s pre-cubistic landscape renderings of Mont Sainte-Victoire, which in turn so profoundly influenced Picasso and Braque.