Albrecht Dürer’s Contributions to Revolutionizing Printmaking during the Renaissance Can Still Be Seen in Work by Today’s Artists

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

To mark the new special exhibition Art, Fashion, Symbol, Statement: Tattooing in America, 1960s to Today (June 22–October 13, 2024),we hope that you enjoy this print in our collection. If you visit the museum, this work is on view in the exhibition.

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528)
The Monstrous Sow of Landser, c. 1496 (likely a 16th-century impression)
Engraving on paper
4.688″h x 4.938″w
Collection of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Eugene Metzger, A2127,81.0306
The Monstrous Sow of Landser is one of Albrecht Dürer’s earliest engravings, made when he was only 25 years old. Dürer was inspired to create this work from reports of a remarkable female pig, born on March 1, 1496, in the hamlet of Landser in Sundgau (today located in Alsace, France). Witnesses described a sow with “one head, four ears, two bodies, eight feet on six of which it stood, and two tongues.” While Dürer (living in Nuremberg) did not see the animal, the German poet and humanist, Sebastian Brant did, and he immediately produced a broadsheet that was accompanied by a simple woodcut illustration (see below). From this print, Dürer borrowed the view of the village in the background.
In the 1490s, as the millennium approached, such freakish births were perceived as omens of the end of the world. Rather than focus on the apocalyptic implications of the event, Dürer portrayed the strange creature with naturalistic objectivity. He did not attempt to accurately represent the pig’s appearance but did include key details, including the textures of its fur, hooves, and tail. 
Dürer was among the most renowned and influential artists to emerge in the last quarter of 15th-century Northern Europe. Over the course of his career, he created work of exceptional skill and beauty, and helped revolutionize printmaking during the Renaissance. He employed woodblock printing and copper engravings to achieve remarkable effects of naturalism and drama never before seen in the graphic arts. Significantly, Dürer contributed to the transformation of printmaking from craft to fine art. He opened his own studio in Nuremberg and soon expanded his reputation well beyond the German states of the Holy Roman Empire with the production and dissemination of the ‘Apocalypse’ (1498), the ‘Large Passion’ (ca. 1497–1511), and the’ Life of the Virgin’ (1500–11).
Dürer’s engravings have influenced the drawings of tattoo artist Mike Adams, which are on display in the exhibition Art, Fashion, Symbol, Statement: Tattooing in America, 1960s to Today. Like Dürer, Adams used precise lines to achieve detail in The Failed Knight (2023, see below) and included key compositional motifs resembling those found in The Monstrous Sow of Landser, particularly the miniature castle on the mountain (visible in the background) as well as the stones and vegetation in the middle- and foreground. As implied by the title and medieval theme, this knight kneels in a pose of forlornness, perhaps indicative of his return from an unsuccessful mission or journey.
Interestingly, the museum’s engraving was formerly in the collection of Junius Spencer Morgan II (1867–1932, see his collector mark on the print’s reverse below), nephew of the famed financier and collector, J. Pierpont Morgan (1837–1913). It is likely that this work was originally owned by merchant Henry F. Sewall (1816–96, a significant print collector), from whom Junius purchased a large number of Dürer’s prints, many of which he later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Princeton University Art Museum.

Sebastian Brandt (German, 1457–1521)
Broadsheet with Pig of Landser, 1496
Woodcut on paper

Mike Adams (American, b. 1985)
The Failed Knight, 2023
Ink and watercolor on handmade cotton paper
Collection of the artist

Junius Spencer Morgan’s collector mark on reverse of print