For centuries, an early Venetian book sat on the shelves of a library in northwestern Germany, rarely looked at and prized only for its advanced age. But hidden in the volume can be something of great value, it turns out.
During a recent inventory, researchers at the Oldenburg State Library found a small drawing on the book’s title page that they believe was made by the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer.
The image measures only 16.5 by 6 centimeters (6.5 by 2.4 inches) and shows a pair of cherubs perched atop fantastic sea creatures. The tongues of the creatures intersect and form a graceful comb: the weapon of the well-known Nuremberger – and acquaintance of Dürer – Willibald Pirckheimer.
The institution’s librarians presented the drawing to the public for the first time this week at an event attended by Björn Thümler, Lower Saxony’s Minister of Science.
“The discovery,” Thümler said in a statement, “proves that in Lower Saxony we are home to exceptionally high-quality collections and exhibitions that slumber undiscovered treasures in our libraries.” The library added that further research is now underway into the artwork’s origins, including a comparative study with other Dürer drawings.
The book, an ancient Greek text written in the second century, was published in 1502 by the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius and according to a Facebook post by Thümler, was taken over by Pirckheimer some time later.
in his announcement of the discovery, the Oldenburg library pointed out that 14 books with drawings by Dürer were sold by Pirckheimer’s heirs in 1634. There are only six left. Experts at the institution suggest that their Greek text could be the seventh.
The Pirckheimer book was included in the collection of the Oldenburg State Library in 1791. It is one of 263 volumes in the institution’s Aldinen collection and is widely regarded as one of the most valuable archives of early printing in Europe.
The book is now on display in the library until July 16.
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