Lot 16
  • 16

Albrecht Dürer

120,000 - 180,000 GBP
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  • Albrecht Dürer
  • Map of the Northern Sky; and Map of the Southern Sky (B. 151, 152; M., HOLL. 260, 259)
  • Woodcuts with hand-colouring on paper
  • Sheet: Northern Sky: 465 by 436mm; 18 3/8 by 17¼in
  • Sheet: Southern Sky: 462 by 438mm; 18¼ by 17¼in
The pair of extremely rare woodcuts with extensive original hand-colouring, circa 1515, Map of the Northern Sky (Holl. 260) a strong, early impression of the scarce first state (of two), Map of the Southern Sky (Holl. 259) a sharp, clear and early impression of the second state (of four), each before the monogram, on paper with a Flower with Triangle watermark (M. 127)


With narrow margins, trimmed well above title at top, the colours strong and vivid, in generally good condition, with a central horizontal fold (split approximately 4mm at left), a soft vertical fold in right part of image (mainly visible verso), a few thin areas in the right section of the image (a couple with associated small holes), other occasional minor nicks or tears to the edges of sheet, Holl. 260 with another soft central vertical fold (mainly visible verso), a few very short vertical tears along upper edge of sheet (in margin, away from the image) (the longest circa 8mm), occasional very pale fox marks, Holl. 259 pale scattered fox marks, a small horizontal tear at right edge of sheet (measuring circa 12mm), light surface dirt particularly to the central fold and to the edges of sheet, a pale stain towards the centre of the image, framed. We may have missed a few other existing impressions in institutions worldwide. Please note that our cataloguing note follows R. Schoch, M. Mende and A. Scherbaum, 'Albrecht Dürer: Das druckgraphische Werk' (Prestel, 2002).
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

These two celestial maps are the oldest printed star charts published in Europe and represent two thousand years of scientific and intellectual thought, brought to life with Dürer's aesthetic mastery. The charts were produced in circa 1515 in Nuremberg under the patronage of the Emperor Maximilian I. They were the product of an innovative collaboration between Dürer and the eminent mathematician and astronomer Johannes Stabius (after 1460-1522) and Conrad Heinfogel (d. 1517).

The woodcuts depict the northern and southern skies known to European astronomers at the time. They skilfully combine accuracy of the stars with constellation figures as visualised by the Greeks and Romans. Distilling iconography influenced by Antiquity, Greek geometrical studies and Islamic scholarship, the woodcuts display Dürer's virtuosity and interest in science and mathematics. The maps show the stars of the forty-eight constellations based on Ptolemy's second century star catalogue, the Almagest. While early western maps of the skies showing both stars and constellation figures appeared since circa 1440, the present maps were the first to chart a coordinate system with accurate placement of the stars. They attest to the role that Nuremberg played as a centre of printing as well as for the manufacture of scientific instruments.

The map of the northern hemisphere is richly decorated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac, to be read counter-clockwise. Four ancient authorities appear at each corner of the northern chart, each in their national dress, holding a celestial globe: Aratus representing the Greek, Ptolemy the Egyptian, Al-Sufi the Islamic and Marcus Manilius the Roman tradition of astronomy. The map of the southern hemisphere displays distinctly fewer stars and constellations. At the time, Europeans had not yet charted the southern sky; this is reflected in the pared down composition of the map, with its areas of vacant constellations. This companion piece reveals information about the map's collaborators and patrons, including a dedication to Cardinal Mattheus Lang von Wellenberg and his coat of arms at the upper corners and Stabius' privilege for publication, granted by Maximilian I at the lower right corner. The acknowledgement that the works were a collaborative effort is reflected in the coats of arms of the three authors with a cartouche noting their names and tasks, at lower left: "Johann Stabius ordered (and edited), Conradus Heinfogel positioned the stars, Albertus Durer drew the images".

In both maps dynamic celestial figures are represented moving in three-dimensional space and the clear, strong impressions, with their vivid hand-colouring, add to the works' attractiveness. There exist only ten other examples of the 1515 star charts in institutions worldwide; this chart is one of only three recorded with contemporary hand-colouring. Aided by Dürer's reputation, these star maps were highly influential and became a source of inspiration for successive mapmakers.