Dürer’s Four Books on Human Proportion - The First Italian Edition - An Exceptional Copy with Important Provenance

Dürer, Albrecht (1471-1528); Gallucci, Giovanni Paolo (1538- ca. 1621)

Della simmetria de i corpi humani, libri Quattro. Nuouamente tradotti dalla lingua Latina nella Italiana, Da M. Gio. Paolo Gallucci Salodiano; et accresciuti del quinto libro, nel quale si tratta, con quai modi possano i Pittori & Scoltori mostrare la diuersità della natura de gli huomini & donne, & con quali le passioni, che sentono per li diuersi accidenti, che li occorrono. Hora di nuouo stampati.

Venice: Presso Domenico Nicolini, 1591


Folio: 32 x 22.5 cm. [6], 143, [1] leaves. Collation: [dagger]6, A-L6, M8, N-P6, Q10, R-Z6

FIRST ITALIAN EDITION, translated by Giovanni Paolo Gallucci, of Dürer’s “Von menschlicher Proportion."

Bound in contemporary limp vellum. An extremely fine, fresh copy with broad margins. Illustrated with 110 full page and four double page diagrams for measurement of the human figure, printed partly as plates, with groups of tables, all included in the foliation. There are 39 additional diagrams in the text. The Venice blocks are close copies of those designed for the first edition of the German text (1528). This edition includes Pirckheimer's important biography of Dürer and a fifth book, written by Gallucci.

PROVENANCE: Owned and partly annotated by the Milanese architect-theorist Pietro Antonio Barca (d. after 1639).

“Dürer produced dozens of manuscripts on the subject of proportion. Through the efforts of his wife, Agnes, and friend Willibald Pirckheimer, these treatises were published posthumously as Four Books on Human Proportion. The treatise attests to Dürer's changing attitude toward the body over time. He came to believe that artists should not strive for a single standard of beauty but instead embrace a variety of forms, writing, ‘If you wish to make a beautiful human figure, it is necessary that you probe the nature and proportions of many people: a head from one; a breast, arm, leg from another. . . .’ In this folio, Dürer depicted figures, accompanied by a corresponding list of body parts, superimposed on a diagram using a single unit of measurement indicated by symbols.”(Morgan Library)

Unlike his Italian contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci, who published nothing, Dürer lived and worked in the world of printing and engraving. The son of a goldsmith, Dürer's godfather was Anton Koberger, who left goldsmithing to become the leading printer and publisher in Nuremberg. At the age of 15 Dürer was apprenticed to the leading artist in Nuremberg, Michael Wolgemut, whose workshop produced a large quantity of woodcuts. Throughout his career Dürer embraced the latest and best reproduction techniques, and may have derived more income from the sale of engravings and woodcuts than from painting.

Toward the end of his life Dürer wrote and illustrated three treatises which he also designed for the press. These included a treatise on fortification, a treatise on mensuration which introduced to Northern Europe techniques of perspective and mathematical proportion in drawing, painting, architecture and letter forms, which Dürer learned in Italy, and a work on the proportion of the human body. The last work, issued shortly after Dürer's death, was the first work to discuss the problems of comparative and differential anthropometry. Because Dürer copied one of Leonardo's anatomical drawings of the upper limb into his Dresden Sketchbook we know that on one of his visits to Italy Dürer must have viewed at least some of Leonardo's anatomical drawings. However, unlike Leonardo who explored both the surface and the interior of the human body, Dürer appears to have limited his interest in the human figure to the surface.

Dürer held that the essence of true form was the primary mathematical figure (e.g., straight line, circle, curve, conic section) constructed arithmetically or geometrically, and made beautiful by the application of a canon of proportion. However, he was also convinced that beauty of form was a relative and not an absolute quality; thus the purpose of his system of anthropometry was to provide the artist with the means to delineate, on the basis of sheer measurement, all possible types of human figures. The first two books of Dürer's work deal with the proper proportions of fat, medium and thin adult figures, as well as those of infants. The third book discusses the changing of proportions according to mathematical rules, applying these rules to both figures and faces. The fourth book treats the movement of bodies in space, and is of the greatest mathematical interest, as it presents, for the first time, many new, intricate and difficult considerations of descriptive spatial geometry. The whole work is profusely illustrated with Dürer's woodcut diagrams of figures. Choulant-Frank states that these include "the first attempts to represent shades and shadows in wood engraving by means of cross-hatching" (p. 145).

Like the Underweysung der Messung (1525), Dürer dedicated his book on human proportion to his friend Willibald Pirckheimer. Pirckheimer provided a preface describing Dürer's debt to the Italians, alluding to Dürer's visits to Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna, and explaining Dürer's influence on Italian and European art. Dürer's original drawings for this work are still preserved in his Dresden Sketchbook. These and Leonardo's anatomical drawings at Windsor are the only large collections of anatomical drawings by major Renaissance artists which remain extant.

Mortimer 169; Bohatta, Bibliographie… Albrecht Dürers, no. 28; Meder, Dürer-Katalog, p. 289; Adams D 1055; Brunet II. 914; Erwin Panofsky, "The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer", Vol I, Princeton, 1945, pp. 260-284