The Nativity, 1504
engraving on ivory laid paper
18.7 x 12.3 cm
Gift in memory of Margaret Wade Labarge from her collection, 2010
National Gallery of Canada (no. 43103)
The date of this engraving, 1504, marks a pivotal point in Dürer's search for mathematical rules defining proper human proportion and perspective inspired by the Italian Renaissance. In this unusual variation on the theme of Christ's birth, the holy couple is placed in a courtyard, the recession lines of which draw the eye to a distant landscape with an airborne Angel Gabriel. New life springs from old in the form of trees growing from abandoned ruins. Mary and Christ are sheltered in a porch that projects from an interior wall pierced by two Romanesque arches. On the right side of the courtyard, a scaffold sits below the classical stone arch, suggesting a new era inspired by the ideals of the Italian Renaissance. As Erwin Panofsky has pointed out, the waters of the well signify the purity of the Virgin, the waters of Paradise, and the sacrament of baptism.