Drawing Found in Viennese Cathedral Could Change How Historians Think About Albrecht Dürer’s Art

A drawing discovered in a Vienna cathedral may transform art historians’ understanding of a Northern Renaissance artist’s career.

According to the Art Newspaper, specialists were alerted to a painting found buried beneath centuries of dirt on the wall above the gift shop at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the Austrian capital. After an examination of the painting’s underdrawing, which was determined to have been executed around 1505, they realized the draughtsman may have been none other than Dürer.

If the attribution is correct, the drawing could alter how historians understand the life of Dürer, who was based in Germany for the majority of his career. No visits to Vienna by Dürer were ever recorded, and his only known wall painting, a massive work designed for the Nuremberg town hall in 1521, was destroyed by bombing during World War II.

The work at St. Stephens takes the form of a triptych. The underdrawings depict St. Catherine and St. Margaret on the left and right sides, with St. Leopold III, one of Austria’s patron saints, in the center. Below, three saints rest along the alter’s bottom frame.

In November, specialists and staff met in the cathedral to discuss the discovery. A statement was subsequently released saying that the two female saints are “undoubtedly by an artist from the circle of Dürer.” Experts have dated the predella and the figure of St. Leopold to the 1510s. If Dürer did draw St Catherine and St Margaret, a skilled assistant completed the work years later.

Erwin Pokorny, a Viennese specialist on the artist who has undertaken months of research on the Viennese underdrawing, told the Art Newspaper that “none of Dürer’s assistants or followers were able to reach the quality of the underdrawing’s virtuoso brushstrokes.” The results will be published later this year in the Austrian journal Österreichische Zeitschrift für Kunst und Denkmalpflege, though Pokorny said he was certain that “the question is not whether but when Dürer was in Vienna.”

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