My Daily Art Display for today is a tempera on canvas portrait by Albrecht Dürer. It is entitled Portrait of a Young Woman (Katharina Fürleger). It was painted in 1497 and can now be found in the Gemäldegalerie, Staatlich Museen, Berlin. This painting is sometimes known as Portrait of a Young Fürleger with Her Hair Done Up, to differentiate it from another portrait by Dürer of a girl with her hair loose, entitled Portrait of a Young Fürleger with Loose Hair, which is on display at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt.
When the two portraits were hung together they formed part of a diptych but in 1830 they were sold separately and are now looked upon as single portraits. At one time it was thought that both pictures were of the same young woman, namely Katharina Fürleger but nowadays art historians have changed their minds and believe the two paintings are of two different younger sisters of the wealthy Nuremburg Fürleger family. A lot of the finer details of this painting have been totally or partially destroyed during restoration attempts and some of the details of the painting are only known because of Wenceslaus Hollar’s engraving of this painting, which he etched in 1646, before some of the details had been damaged.
We see the young woman sitting by a window, out of which we can just make out an undulating landscape. In the foreground, there is a path leading to a large gate in a wall. Parts of the landscape in the painnting have been totally or partially destroyed during various restoration attempts. Although it cannot be seen in my attached picture the wooden window post on the frame of the window is decorated with a carving of a robed man, possibly a prophet, who is reading a book on which is painted Dürer’s monogram. This also has been partially destroyed but it is known to be part of the original as recorded by the Hollar engraving. Seen from the side, this man used to look towards the other portrait of the diptych, Portrait of a Young Girl with her Hair Down.
The young girl is eighteen years of age. How is that known? The paper or parchment cantellino, which can be seen, fixed to the wall to the right of her head bears an inscription which is not visible on the painting today but Hollar’s engraving shows that the cantellino originally had the inscription:
ALSO PIN ICH GESTALT / IN ACHCEHE JOR ALT / 1497
which translated means:
“This was my appearance when eighteen years old in 1497”
Just below this cantellino one can just make out a small shield hanging by a strap from a nail in the wall. On the shield is an inverted red cross which was similar in design to the Fürleger’s coat of arms – a yellow cross on a blue background.
The young woman is wearing her hair up in large braids wrapped around her head, which often signifies she has reached a marriageable age or is in fact betrothed. Around her head is a pearl-studded headdress which suggests she comes from a wealthy family. Her hands rest on a parapet. In her right hand she delicately holds between finger and thumb a stalk of a plant identified as eryngium, which symbolises fortune and two stalks of southern-wood, also known as Lover’s Plant or Maid’s Ruin, which was used in love potions. Her hands seem slightly deformed as if she is suffering an early onset of arthritis but this may just be the way Dürer painted hands. She wears a red gown, which is partially covering her chemise. The black trim of this chemise has an embroidered series of letters on it which are thought to be part of a motto.
There is just one final twist to the story of this painting. Art historians now say that the shield seen on the wall, which bore a resemblance to the Kürtleger’s family emblem, was added later to the painting as it was not shown in an early copy of the painting, which is now in Leipzig but it did appear in Hollar’s engraving of 1646. It was because of this family emblem that people originally believed it to be a portrait of Katharina Fürleger but there is no record of such a daughter. There was however a daughter, Anna Fürleger, but in 1497, the date of this painting, she was only thirteen years of age.
So is this Katharina Fürleger or should we believe art historian Fedja Anzelewsky, who believes the young woman in both paintings to be Dürer’s sister-in-law Katharina Frey? Others however suggest that the young women in the two portraits are in fact Dürer’s sisters Agnes and Katharina.
Tomorrow I will feature the other painting of the woman, the young woman with her hair loose.