The monk's cowl, the white beard, and the bell on the cross-staff identify this subject as Saint Anthony the Great. The saint, born in northern Egypt around AD 250, is said to have lived to the age of 105. He was considered to be the founder of Christian monasticism, having decided at a young age to give away all his worldly goods to go and live as a hermit in the desert. There he overcame the torments of evil demons, and the bell alludes to his ability to exorcise them.
Artists very often depict Saint Anthony afflicted by lurid visions of demons, as in Hieronymus Bosch's altarpiece of ca. 1500. Durer, however, shows the saint in prayerful contemplation. The horizontal format of the engraving contributes to the quiet mood and is unusual within the printmaker's oeuvre.
The townscape in the background--an assemblage of crystalline, geometric forms--ccombines elements of Durer's native Nuremberg and the towns of Innsbruck and Trent, through which he passed on his first journey to Italy in the 1490's. The very same townscape appears in a finished drawing from around 1496. The dominance of the town in this composition serves to remind the viewer of the world that Saint Anthony has renounced for the holy life of an ascetic.
This impression of the engraving is the first of four states and most likely dates from the artist's lifetime.
James T. Laney Fund