For centuries, an ancient Venetian book had sat on the shelves of a library in northwest Germany, rarely looked at and appreciated only for its advanced age. But hidden inside the volume may be something of great value, it turns out.
During a recent inventory audit, researchers at the Oldenburg State Library found a small drawing on the title page of the book which they believe was made by the German Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer. .
Measuring just 16.5 by 6 centimeters (6.5 by 2.4 inches), the illustration features a pair of cherubs perched on fantastical sea creatures. The creatures’ tongues intersect to form an ornate crest: the coat of arms of famed Nuremberg scholar – and Dürer acquaintance – Willibald Pirckheimer.
The institution’s librarians presented the drawing to the public for the first time this week at an event attended by Lower Saxony’s science minister, Björn Thümler.
“The discovery,” Thümler said in a statement, “proves that we in Lower Saxony house extraordinarily first-rate collections and shows what undiscovered treasures lie dormant in our libraries.” The library added that further research into the artwork’s origin, including a comparative study with other Dürer drawings, is currently underway.
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 some time later.
In his discovery announcement, the Oldenburg Library pointed out that 14 books containing Dürer’s drawings were sold by Pirckheimer’s heirs in 1634. Only six remain. The institution’s experts suggest that their Greek text could be the seventh.
The Pirckheimer book entered the collection of the State Library of Oldenburg in 1791. It is one of 263 volumes in the institution’s Aldinen collection, widely regarded as one of the most precious old printing works in Europe.
The book is on public view at the library until July 16.
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