The Sea Monster; or, "Das Meerwunder"
Illustrated by Albrecht Dürer
Known to the modern world as "The Sea Monster", Dürer knew this work, in his own language, as "Das Meerwunder".
This image is understood to have been prepared in, or about, 1498 during a five year period of intense productivity
leading up to 1500.
As with some other of Dürer's illustrations, his personal inspiration for the illustration is not known to have been
recorded. While many rationale have been proposed, an informative discussion of the image and its iconography has
been undertaken by Panofsky (The life and art of Albrecht Durer: Princeton University Press; 1945):
The engraving ... shows the abduction of a nude girl from her bathing place. The abductor
is a fabulous being, half man, half fish, embellished by a long white beard and little antlers,
and carrying a tortoise shell and a jawbone for weapons. The companions of his victim seek
the shore in terror; her mother wrings her hands; her father, dressed in oriental garb, runs
toward the edge of the water with futile gestures of despair. The maiden herself, apparently
much less perturbed that her entourage, reclines on the fish-tail of her abductor, displaying
her beauty in a pose all' antica and limiting the expression of her grief to a low sob or moan.
No doubt a certain similarity in theme, in general arrangement and in such details as the
frightened girls in the background exists between this engraving and the Europa drawing of
about 1495. It is thus doubly tempting to explain the print by an analogous classical myth.
But neither the legend of the Argive princess Amymone nor the Ovidian tale of Achelous
and Perimela agrees with the factual evidence; and Dürer himself, who elsewhere by no
means avoided mythological nomenclature, calls the engraving simply "Das Meerwunder"
("The Sea Monster"). The inference is that it does not represent a definite mythological
incident but one of those anonymous atrocity stories which, though ultimately of classical
origin, were currently reported as having taken place in recent times and in a familiar
environment. Poggio Bracciolini, for instance, relates a tale wherein the horrifying story of
a Triton, told in Pausanias's description of Tanagra, is transferred to the fifteenth century and
to the coast of Dalmatia. A monster, half human, half piscine, with little horns and a flowing
beard, was in the habit of abducting children and young girls enjoying themselves on the
beach, until it was killed by five determined washerwomen. Its "wooden form" (it is not
known exactly whether a carved image or the monster itself in a state of extreme desiccation)
was on display in Ferrara - Poggio had seen it with his own eyes - and silenced every sceptic.
This tale fits in with Dürer's engraving to a remarkable degree, and there is every reason
to believe that it, or a similar yarn, is responsible for the iconography of the "Meerwunder".
Dürer may have divined the classical core beneath the veneer of modern pseudo-reality, and
the subject may have conveyed to him and to his public the idea of "unregenerated sensuality,"
as did the Centaurs and Satyrs found in the decoration of medieval cloisters and church
façades; but it seems fruitless to scan the classics in search of a specific appellation.
Regardless of the explanation behind Dürer's illustration, it is undoubtedly a true Masterpiece that is packed with
How to purchase our Greeting Cards and large format reproductions
When presented on Greeting Cards, this image is prepared as a tipped-on plate - in hommage to the hand-crafted
approach typical of prestige illustrated publications produced in the early decades of the 20th Century. Each card is
hand-finished, with the image presented on White card stock with an accompanying envelope. On the rear of each
card we also present some information about Albrecht Dürer and this wonderful illustration. We have left the interior
of the cards blank so that you may write your own personal message.
Each of our large format reproductions are prepared with archival quality materials and processes to ensure many years
of enjoyment. In addition, our reproductions are accompanied by explanatory material relating to Albrecht Dürer and
this wonderful illustration.
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In the meantime, enjoy perusing this wonderful illustration by Albrecht Dürer.
Single Greeting Card (with matching Envelope)
Code: AD SM SGC
Reproduction on 8x12" sheet
Reproduction on 12x18" sheet
Some details from the illustration
|The Sea Monster
|Detail of the seaside town