This study was made possible with the generous support of Dr Susanne Pearce.

The National Gallery of Victoria’s collection of prints by Albrecht Dürer is recognised internationally for its quality, comprehensiveness, and number of rarities. The collection comprises some 451 items, and is known in particular for 326 Dürer prints and books purchased in 1956–57 from Sir T. D. Barlow. This group was assembled between the First and Second world wars and is noteworthy for its high proportion of early impressions. The Gallery’s large collection of Dürer prints provides an important corpus of early European papers which contain valuable information for study purposes. Using beta-radiography the NGV’s Paper Conservation studio has captured images of the watermarks in these prints, which are accessible through this online database.

Albrecht D&Uuml;RER<br/>
<em>Christ among the Doctors</em> (c. 1503); (1511) {printed before text edition of} (watermark)<br />
from <i>The Life of the Virgin</i> series, published 1511<br />
woodcut<br />
29.6 x 20.9 cm (image) 30.0 x 21.1 cm irreg. (sheet)<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Felton Bequest, 1956<br />
3544.16-4<br />

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Dürer used paper containing the High Crown watermark for both engravings and woodcuts from 1495 until his death in 1528

In 1993–94 the NGV’s collection of Dürer prints was comprehensively catalogued in preparation for the publication Albrecht Dürer in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (1994). At this time, all Dürer prints containing watermarks underwent beta-radiography, with approximately 200 separate watermarks collected. Launching the online database in 2016 has allowed further research of these beta-radiographs to be undertaken, and several previous watermark descriptions have been refined and new identifications made. This database now makes the watermarks collected in this important study available to others for research.

Digital databases enable watermarks to be compared with greater accuracy than the traditional method of comparing tracings, made by hand, of watermarks compiled in printed albums. The Dürer database of approximately 160 watermarks enables researchers to readily access information that can assist with dating and authenticating Dürer prints. When studied as a whole, the database provides insight into the availability of paper in Germany during the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and the choices of paper available to Dürer.

Throughout the artist’s lifetime, the only type of Western paper available was known as laid paper. Paper is made from a thin layer of pulped fibres which, when dried, forms a sheet of paper. This was made on a timber frame, called a mould, which is covered in a series of widely spaced parallel wires known as chain lines, running across which were more closely spaced wires known as laid lines. When the paper was formed, the side of the sheet against the mould, known as the wire side, develops a subtle lined texture; hence the name ‘laid paper’. Conversely, the other side, known as the felt side, is smoother and more uniform. Occasionally the pressure exerted on the paper during printing flattens the laid lines, making it difficult to distinguish which side the artist has printed on. As noted in the database, Dürer readily printed on both the wire and felt sides of the sheet, indicating that the paper’s surface texture was not a preoccupation for him.

Filigranology, or the study of watermarks, has formed part of print scholarship since the early eighteenth century, and in the mid nineteenth century Bernard Hausmann compiled the first comprehensive list of watermarks found in Dürer’s prints. The watermark comes from a design made of shaped copper wire, referred to as the wire profile, which was sewn onto the wire side of a papermaking mould with fine wire. Because the sheet of paper is thinner in the area of the wire profile, when it is viewed with light behind it, or to a lesser extent across the surface, the watermark design becomes visible. Some wire profiles were stitched to the mould in the same orientation they were designed to be seen in, while others were stitched in reverse, intended to be viewed from the felt side. When letters form part of a watermark its correct orientation is readily apparent.

In the NGV database of watermarks found in Dürer prints, small dots caused by stitches used to anchor the wire profile to the mould are occasionally visible. In addition to watermarks, some papers have a separate, smaller subsidiary design, known as a countermark, often taking the simple form of a pair of initials in a different location on the sheet. It was common for larger sheets of paper to be cut down, which often separated the watermark and the countermark. For example, Dürer’s woodcut Saint Jerome in his Cell, 1511, bears the initials ‘IM’ which is the countermark to the ‘Fish bladder’ watermark found in The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin, 1510.

Albrecht D&Uuml;RER<br/>
<em>David Penitent</em> 1510 (watermark)<br />
(Modest Woodcut)<br />
woodcut<br />
19.4 x 13.3 cm (image) 19.7 x 13.5 cm (sheet)<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Felton Bequest, 1956<br />
3588-4<br />

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‘IM’ countermark in Saint Jerome in his Cell, 1511

Albrecht D&Uuml;RER<br/>
<em>The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin</em> 1510 (watermark)<br />
from <i>The Life of the Virgin</i><br />
woodcut<br />
29.2 x 20.9 cm (image) 31.3 x 22.5 cm (sheet; 1.4 cm strip paper inlay along lower edge)<br />
proof<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Felton Bequest, 1923<br />
1278.513-3<br />

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‘Fish bladder’ watermark found in The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin, 1510

Beta-radiography is a moderate particulate form of radiation that can penetrate materials such as paper, allowing crisp images of variations in thickness, and thus show where the different wires of the mould – chain, laid and watermark design – were. Beta-radiographs not only reveal watermarks but also aspects of a sheet’s manufacture, including areas of variable pulp dispersion; inclusions, such as splinters of wood used to beat the paper; coarse fibres; damage that occurred throughout the life of the print, such as holes and repairs; and sometimes ink or pigments from the image on the sheet.

Papermaking mills used moulds with the same identifying watermark in pairs to increase output. The vatman would plunge one mould into the vat of paper pulp, forming the paper sheet, before passing it to the coucher who then turned out the sheet onto felt, and laid another felt on top of it ready for the next sheet. While this was happening, the vatman had already started work on the next sheet, using the other mould. The watermarks on the two moulds in simultaneous use are referred to as twins. The moulds would be utilised continuously over a number of months, with running repairs undertaken to keep them in service. Being made of soft copper, the wire profile was vulnerable to damage and distortion through repeated use. Close study of a single watermark design, for example the High Crown, can reveal subtle changes, such as movement of the wire profile between chain lines, small breaks or bends in the wire profile, repairs and small design alterations. These subtle changes between watermarks made with the same wire profile are referred to as different states.

Watermarks are enormously varied and can denote the region and manufacturing mill in which paper was made, as well as the quality of the sheet. They also provide insights into paper trade and distribution. The Rhine River acted as a trade route between the Piedmont region of Italy and cities such as Basel and Dürer’s home town of Nuremberg. This movement of paper, together with Dürer’s documented travels to locations such as Venice, Antwerp and Bruges, is reflected in the range of watermarks found in his prints.

While there are diverse designs used in watermarks of this period, a number of repeated symbols indicate aspects of the culture in which Dürer lived. The crown was a symbol of authority in the second half of the fifteenth century, and the strong religious spirit of the Middle Ages led to the inclusion of symbols such as the cross for centuries to follow. Furthermore, the development of heraldry led to the use of emblems, including shields and the eagle, in watermarks.

While watermarks are a great aid to print scholarship, it is prudent to study them in conjunction with other evidence, such as internationally recognised catalogues and provenance information.

Explanation of the measurement system used in the database

The placement and spacing of each watermark on the mould has been measured using a system developed by filigranologist Allan Stevenson. For example, the High Crown watermark found in Nemesis (3490-4) is measured as follows:

140  x 4 [27 I 27]  x 4 mm
Height of watermark (in mm) Distance from the left edge of watermark to closest chain line on left side (in mm) [The sum of the numbers in brackets is the total width of the watermark at its widest point]. Here a single chain line bisects the watermark as noted by a vertical mark (I) (in mm) Distance from the right edge of watermark to closest chain line on right side (in mm)

In some cases there is a partial or indistinguishable watermark. In these instances a question mark is used in place of a measurement.

Partial watermarks appear in the database where Dürer cut the paper sheet prior to use, or where a work has been trimmed subsequently. There are also cases where the watermark is indistinguishable, due perhaps to damage to the wire profile or work of art, or because of poor sheet formation. In these instances, a question mark is used in place of a measurement.

Glossary of terms

Chain line interval
The distance between chain lines, measured in millimetres.
Laid line frequency
The number of laid lines present per centimetre.
Wire side
The wire side of a paper sheet can be on the front of the work of art, referred to as the recto, or the back of the work, known as the verso. In some cases, it is not possible to determine if the wire side is on the recto or verso.
Side the beta-radiograph is taken from
In general, the beta-radiograph images in the database were taken from the recto of the work of art. In some cases a more distinct image was possible from the non-printed side; in these instances the x-ray film was placed on the verso of the work. This information should be interpreted in conjunction with the information related to wire side, allowing conclusions to be drawn about the orientation of the wire profile on the mould used to make the paper. For example, the beta-radiograph of the City Gate watermark in the etching The Agony in the Garden, 1515, is taken from the recto side of the print, and the wire side is on the recto. Therefore, the image in the database shows the exact orientation of the City Gate wire profile on the papermaker’s mould.
Albrecht D&Uuml;RER<br/>
<em>The Agony in the Garden</em> 1515 (watermark)<br />

etching on iron<br />
22.3 x 15.5 cm (image) 22.4 x 15.6 cm (sheet)<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Felton Bequest, 1956<br />
3436-4<br />

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City Gate watermark found in The Agony in the Garden etching (3436-4)

References and remarks
To assist in the identification of Dürer’s watermarks, related watermarks in other studies are referred to throughout the database. These key references are Charles-Moïse Briquet’s Les Filigranes: Dictionnaire historique des marques du papier dès leur apparition vers 1282 jusqu’en en 1600 (1968) and Joseph Meder’s comprehensive study of Dürer’s papers Dürer: Katalog (1932). In Briquet the earliest date and places of use of the various watermarks have been assigned from dated documents, printed books and dated works of art. In some cases, very similar watermarks have been assigned a variety of Briquet numbers because different numbers are assigned to different states of the same watermark throughout this dictionary.


Not in Meder or Briquet

 

The Holy Family with two Angels in a Vaulted Hall
Albrecht DÜRER

This watermark is Italian. Possibly Briquet 589 (found in documents dated 1519 in Udine, Italy and 1514 in Salzburg, Austria)

 

Abduction of Proserpine on a unicorn
Albrecht DÜRER

The rhinoceros
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 314

 

Erasmus of Rotterdam
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 67

 

Coats of arms of the German Empire and Nuremberg
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 69

 

Madonna Queen of Angels
Albrecht DÜRER

meder 81

 

The Crucifixion
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 66, Briquet 14553 (found in documents dated 1506 in Bamberg, Germany and 1488 in Venice, Italy)

 

Christ, Man of Sorrows, mocked by a soldier
Albrecht DÜRER

The Virgin on the crescent
Albrecht DÜRER

The Death of the Virgin
Albrecht DÜRER

Briquet 15097 (found in a document dated 1470 in Augsburg, Germany)

 

Coat of arms of Albrecht Dürer
Albrecht DÜRER

Possibly Meder 44. This paper was possibly purchased by Dürer on his second journey to Italy between 1505-1507. Correspondence between Dürer and his friend Willibald Pirckheimer indicates Pirckheimer had given him funds to purchase paper whilst in Italy.

 

Interlaced cord pattern with oblong shield
Albrecht DÜRER

Interlaced cord pattern with heart-shaped centre
Albrecht DÜRER

Interlaced cord pattern with scalloped shield
Albrecht DÜRER

Interlaced cord pattern with white medallion
Albrecht DÜRER

Interlaced cord pattern with seven hexagonal stars
Albrecht DÜRER

Interlaced cord pattern with seven wreaths
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 286

 

The Four Angels staying the winds
Albrecht DÜRER

Possibly Briquet 13900 (found in a documents dated 1533 in Naples, Italy, 1536 in Imola, Italy and 1539 in Fabriano, Italy). It has been suggested this watermark is from a paper mill in the Veneto region of Italy. See Woodward, D. ‘Martha and Mary, 1568-70: The Use of a Pair of Watermarks in Reconstructing the Venetian Map Trade’, In Looking at Paper evidence and interpretation Symposium Proceedings Toronto, 1999’ p. 135. This watermark is very similar to ‘Mermaid E’ found in a document written by Michelangelo dated 1546 and identified in Roberts J. A Dictionary of Michelangelo’s Watermarks, 1988, p. 25.

 

Crucifixion with Many Figures (The Crucifixion in Outline)
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 273

 

The Circumcision
Albrecht DÜRER

Not in Meder or Briquet

 

Coat of Arms of Maximilian I as King of the Romans
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 188

 

The Adoration of the Magi
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 259, Briquet 15863 (found in document dated 1473 in Augsbourg, Germany). This watermark represents the Ravensburg Coat of Arms. This paper was probably made in Ravensburg, Baden-Würtemberg where the second oldest paper mill in Germany was founded c. 1393–1394.

 

The Seven Trumpets
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 238, Briquet 306, Briquet 308 (found in documents dated 1558 in Weisbaden, Germany and 1570 in Hunteburg, Germany)

 

The Prodigal Son amid the Swine
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 246

 

The Rejection of Joachim's Offering
Albrecht DÜRER

Not in Meder or Briquet

 

Joachim and the Angel
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 309. At the time of manufacture the Fish Bladder watermark appeared on one half of the freshly made sheet of paper and the IM countermark appeared on the other half. Since Dürer occasionally cut sheets in half to make prints of a modest scale, the watermark would appear on the paper of one print and the countermark on another.

 

Saint Jerome in his Cell
Albrecht DÜRER

The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin
Albrecht DÜRER

David Penitent
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 127, Briquet 6485 (found in documents dated 1471 in Augsburg, Germany, 1498 in Nuremberg, Germany and 1525 in Ingolstadt, Germany)

 

Celestial map of the southern sky
Albrecht DÜRER

St Michael fighting the dragon
Albrecht DÜRER

Celestial map of the northern sky
Albrecht DÜRER

Briquet 4902 (found in documents dated 1520 in Treviso, Italy, 1480 in Munich, Germany, 1481-88 in Brescia, Italy, 1483-1501 in Dresden, Germany, 1484-1505 in Prague, Czech Republic, 1485-93 in Eichstatt, Germany and 1486 in Magdeburg, Germany). This watermark is Italian.

 

Christ Appears to the Disciples (Doubting Thomas)
Albrecht DÜRER

Briquet 5021 (found in documents dated 1553 in Eichstatt, 1562 in Basle, Germany and 1569 in Wiesbaden, Germany). This watermark is German.

 

The great courier
Albrecht DÜRER (attributed to)

Meder 20, Briquet 4895 (found in a document dated 1498 in Leipzig, Germany). This watermark is Italian.

 

Madonna with the monkey
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 20, Briquet 4902 (found in documents dated 1520 in Treviso, Italy, 1480 in Munich, Germany, 1481-88 in Brescia, Italy, 1483-1501 in Dresden, Germany, 1484-1505 in Prague, Czech Republic, 1485-93 in Eichstatt, Germany and 1486 in Magdeburg, Germany). This watermark is Italian.

 

The Martyrdom of John the Baptist
Albrecht DÜRER

The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin
Albrecht DÜRER

Salome Presenting the Head of John the Baptist to Herodius
Albrecht DÜRER

Salome Presenting the Head of John the Baptist to Herodias
Albrecht DÜRER

Salome Presenting the Head of John the Baptist to Herodius
Albrecht DÜRER

Possibly Meder 22. This watermark is Italian.

 

Pentecost
Albrecht DÜRER

The Betrayal of Christ
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 31. This watermark is German.

 

Landscape with cannon
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 20a, Briquet 4911 (found in documents dated 1492 in Linz, Austria, 1495 in Bamberg, Germany, 1496 in Innsbruck, Austria, 1496-1502 in Frankfurt, Germany, 1497 in Marburg, Germany, 1498 in Erfurt, Germany and 1502 in Hochstadt, Germany)

 

The sea monster
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 56, Briquet 3058 (found in a document dated 1503 in Venice, Italy)

 

St Jerome Penitent in the Wilderness
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 56, Briquet 3067 (found in a document dated 1532 in Bergamo, Italy)

 

Lansquenet and Death
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 138, Briquet 7519 (found in a document dated 1499 in Sion, Switzerland)

 

The Madonna crowned by two angels above a landscape
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 24, Briquet 4773 (found in documents dated 1499-1504 in Wurzburg, Germany and 1500 in Innsbruck, Austria)

 

The Seven Trumpets
Albrecht DÜRER

The bath house
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 306

 

The Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand
Albrecht DÜRER

Possibly Meder 28 (Narrow High Crown with Small P)

 

The Fall of Man
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 110

 

Emperor Maximilian I
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 202, Briquet 1918 (found in documents dated 1591-1604 in Prague, Czech Republic, 1606 in Vienna, Austria and 1630 in Graz, Austria). This is similar to watermark number 331 in Georg Eineder’s The Ancient Paper-Mills of the Former Austro-Hungarian Empire and Their Watermarks. The VB represents the initials of the papermaker, Valentin Brämer and the paper mill was located at Streyr I-Altmühle, Upper Austria.

 

The Trinity (The See of Grace)
Albrecht DÜRER

Escutcheon with the letter 'R', not in Meder or Briquet. This paper was probably made in Ravensburg, Baden-Würtemberg where the second oldest paper mill in Germany was founded c. 1393–1394.

 

Saint Sebaldus as a pilgrim in a niche
Albrecht DÜRER


Meder 262. This watermark, sometimes referred to as 'City Gate' by researchers, represents the Ravensburg Coat of Arms. This paper was probably made in Ravensburg, Baden-Würtemberg where the second oldest paper mill in Germany was founded c. 1393–1394.

 

Agony in the Garden
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 263. This watermark, sometimes referred to as 'City Gate' by researchers, represents the Ravensburg Coat of Arms. This paper was probably made in Ravensburg, Baden-Würtemberg where the second oldest paper mill in Germany was founded c. 1393–1394.

 

The Agony in the Garden
Albrecht DÜRER

The Holy Family with St John, the Magdalen and Nicodemus
Albrecht DÜRER

Not in Meder

 

Christ before Annas
Albrecht DÜRER

 

St Christopher
Albrecht DÜRER

Meder 168

 

The Crucifixion
Albrecht DÜRER