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Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Nuremberg (engraved)

  • Date:

    1523 (engraved)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Dürer, Albrecht, born 1471 - died 1528 (engraver)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Credit Line:

    Given by Edgar Seligman

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case PS, shelf 9

The German cardinal, Albrecht of Brandenberg was both a cleric and a prince of the Holy Roman Empire. He was in Nuremburg on church business in 1522-3 when Dürer may have made the drawing of him in silverpoint on which this engraving is based.

Dürer sent five hundred examples of this print as well as the engraved copper plate they were each printed from, to Albrecht of Brandenberg. Receiving no acknowledgement, and more importantly, no payment in money or goods, Dürer wrote to the cardinal to ask if he was displeased with this gift or if he had indeed received it.

Dürer's gift of the copper printing plate as well as the impressions of the print meant that he was handing over control of the distribution of all the examples of this print to the cardinal. Once the original five hundred examples had been given out, the cardinal could arrange to have more printed, or he could limit the number of examples in circulation to five hundred by having the plate destroyed.

Physical description


Place of Origin

Nuremberg (engraved)


1523 (engraved)


Dürer, Albrecht, born 1471 - died 1528 (engraver)

Materials and Techniques


Marks and inscriptions

Monogram AD on left edge.
Monogram of the artist.

Thus were his eyes, his cheeks, his features at the age of 34, 1523.
at the top.

Albert, by Divine Mercy the most Holy Roman Church's Titular Presbyter Cardinal of St. Chrysogonus, Archbishop of Mainz and Madgeburg, Primate Elector of the Empire, Administer of Halberstadt, Margrave of Brandenberg.


Height: 17.4 cm plate, Width: 12.8 cm plate, Height: 17.8 cm sheet, Width: 12.8 cm sheet

Object history note

Historical significance: Albrecht of Brandenburg was the son of the Elector of Brandenburg. Ordained in 1513, his brother the then elector appointed him first archbishop of Magdeburg then archbishop and elector of Mainz. Made a cardinal in 1518. One of the most important princes of the Holy Roman Empire who used his influence to obtain help secure the crown for Charles V in 1519. A supporter of humanist figures favouring peaceful reform and initially opponent of any action against Luther that might precipitate an ideological split. See H. Kamen. Who's Who in Europe 1450-1750, London 2000.

According to Bartrum, the sitter was in Nuremberg at the Diet of Nuremberg 1522-23, when Dürer made the silverpoint drawing on which this engraving may be based.

Historical context note

Bartrum quoting Rupprich quotes from a letter of 4 September 1523 to the sitter from the artist. "Before I became ill this year I sent an engraved copper plate to your Electoral Grace with your portrait together with five hundred impressions therof. Finding no acknowledgement of this in Your Grace's letter, I fear that either the portrait did not please Your Grace- this would sadden me, as my diligence would have had poor results-or else, I fear that it may not have reached Your Grace at all. I beg your Grace for a gracious reply."

The listing of the sitter’s titles in a fictive tablet across the bottom, the way the sitter fills the space and above all the profile presentation like an emperor on a Roman coin lend the cardinal, then aged thirty four, great visual authority to add to that which he already possessed on the basis of his high standing in the Church.

Dürer has not presented an idealised portrait of his subject. The cardinal is shown as having a large nose, fleshy lips and a double chin. The artist has also paid close attention to the garments he is wearing, their fastenings, and the way the cardinal's linen shirt sticks out from under his collar.

This print is the second time in four years that Dürer had made a portrait print of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg. The Latin lettering across the bottom of this print lists the cardinal’s other titles including Archbishop of Magdeburg. It was in this capacity that Albrecht of Brandenburg owned a famous collection of reliquaries at Halle. It was financial abuses connected with the viewing of these reliquaries which Martin Luther took such grave objection to prompting him to write his 95 theses which he sent to Albrecht on 31 October 151,7 and by tradition nailed to the door of the castle Church in Wittenberg.

Descriptive line

Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenberg, engraving by Albrecht Dürer,1523

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bartrum, Giulia. Albrecht Dürer and His Legacy. London, 2002. p.202, no 148.
Bartsch, Adam von. Le peintre graveur. Vienna, 1803-182. 21 vols. no 103, 1st state.
Silver, Larry. The face is familiar: German Renaissance portrait multiples in prints and medals. In Word and Image. Vol. 19, nos. 1 & 2, January-June 2003. pp. 6-21.
Strauss, Walter L. The Illustrated Bartsch New York, 1982. 10 (Commentary), p.227.
Panofsky, Erwin. The Life and Art of Albrecht Durer. Princeton, 1955. pp. 236-238.
Victoria and Albert Museum Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1960: Volume 2, Edgar Seligman Gift. London: HMSO, 1966.


Printing ink



Subjects depicted

Hats; Coats of arms


Prints; Portraits


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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