German Librarians Just Discovered a New Drawing by Albrecht Dürer on the Title Page of a Long-Ignored Book From the 16th Century

The illustration was found during a recent audit of the institution’s collection of books published by Venetian printer Aldus Manutius.

A possible Albrecht Dürer drawing discovered inside a 500-year-old book. Photo: Torsten von Reeken. Courtesy of the Oldenburg State Library.

For centuries, an early Venetian book sat on the shelves of a library in northwest Germany, seldom looked at and valued only for its old age. But hidden inside the volume may just be something of great worth, it turns out.

During a recent inventory audit, researchers at the Oldenburg State Library found on the title page of the book a small drawing they believe was made by German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer.

Measuring just 16.5 by 6 centimeters (6.5 by 2.4 inches), the illustration depicts a pair of cherubs perched atop fantastical sea creatures. The tongues of the creatures intersect to form an ornate crest: the coat of ​​arms for the noted Nuremberg scholar—and Dürer acquaintance—Willibald Pirckheimer.

Librarians from the institution presented the drawing to the public for the first time this week at an event attended by the Lower Saxony’s Minister of Science, Björn Thümler.

“The discovery,” Thümler said in a statement, “proves that we in Lower Saxony house extraordinarily top-class collections and shows which undiscovered treasures lie dormant in our libraries.” The library added that further research into the origin of the artwork, including a comparative study with other Dürer drawings, is in progress now.

The book, an ancient Greek text written in the second century, was published by Venetian printer Aldus Manutius in 1502 and, according to a Facebook post by Thümler, was acquired by Pirckheimer sometime after.

In its announcement of the discovery, the Oldenburg library pointed out that 14 books featuring drawings by Dürer were sold by Pirckheimer’s heirs in 1634. Only six remain in existence. Experts from the institution suggest that their Greek text may be the seventh.

The Pirckheimer book entered the Oldenburg State Library’s collection in 1791. It is one of 263 volumes in the institution’s Aldinen Collection, widely considered to be among the most valuable archives of early printing in Europe. 

The book is on public view at the library now through July 16. 

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