The Sea Monster


Albrecht Dürer ( German, 1471 - 1528 )

c. 1498
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General Description

The exact subject of this puzzling image remains unclear. Albrecht Dürer simply called it "Das Meerwunder" ("The Sea Monster") in his diary. In Dürer’s mythological scene of abduction, a grotesque triton with a peculiar antler-like growth at his forehead kidnaps a princess, who wears nothing more than an elaborate diadem and pearls. On the shore, her companions and a man, presumably her father, clamor for her return. Later scholars attempted to trace the scene's narrative to classical mythology, but none of them account fully for all of the peculiarities of Dürer's print. Some have suggested that the scene reflects the Renaissance fascination with folktales or superstitions about fabulous monsters and creatures of the sea.

The Sea Monster is a striking example of the artist's early mastery of engraving. Its remarkable detail, with the elaborate Nuremberg castle and meticulously rendered foliage, illustrates Dürer's deft handling of the burin, an engraver's tool which cuts the design into the metal plate. Dürer created plasticity in the maiden's body by delicately shading her rounded contours with linear hatches and crosshatching. Created after he returned from Italy, The Sea Monster may reveal Andrea Mantegna's influence in the well-defined volumes of the maiden and her abductor. The rigorous rhythm of rippling lines in the water emphasizes the movement of figures in the foreground. Each surface is treated sumptuously, from the skin, scales, hair, and draping cloth of the figures to the billowing clouds, rugged cliffs, massive buildings, and undulating waves of the setting.

Adapted from

  • Shirley Reece-Hughes, "Albrecht Dürer, The Sea Monster," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 77.

  • Laura Sevelis, DMA label copy, 2015.

  • Carl Wuellner, DMA Label copy, 2003.

Web Resources

  • Inside Albrecht Dürer's Studio- Engraving
    Watch this demonstration and explanation of the engraving process created by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute for the exhibition, The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer (November 14, 2010- March 13, 2011).