German Renaissance artist, Albrecht Durer, is 550 years old and two fine producers issue impressive coins to celebrate

One of the most famous artists to come out of the Northern Renaissance, Albrecht Durer has a varied body of work covering a wide range of subjects, including portraits, religious works, and landscapes, but he is perhaps most noted for his work with woodcuts. A pioneer of their use, he used them to produce copies of his work that could then be spread amongst various buyers over Europe, and also for some striking original works.

Despite the excellence of his body of work, it’s a relatively obscure woodcut of a rhinocerous for which he is most famous, even defining what they looked like for most Europeans for a couple of centuries. There was a CIT-designed coin issued for the Cook Islands back in 2013 that reproduced it. The two new coins marking 550 years since the artists birth have both chosen to use one of his three self-portraits, although with different approaches.

Firstly, and most impressively, is Mint XXI’s effort, a two-ounce silver coin that is the third in their ‘World’s Greatest Artists’ series, following Leonardo da Vinci and Gustav Klimt. Like those, it features a high-relief depiction of the artist to one side, in this case based on a self-portrait of the young Durer in1498, the second of three ‘selfies’. The rest of the reverse face is filled with a coloured crop of his 1505 painting ‘Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman’.

The series common obverse returns, filled with geometric lines including what looks like a fibonacci sequence. On top of that is Ian Rank Broadley’s ‘Portrait of a Not-so Young British Woman’… Packaging is comprised of a wooden box with a C.O.A. and the mintage is set at 500 pieces. A very attractive series with a well balanced look and top quality strike. Available now.

The second of the two new issues is one from the ever busy Mint of Poland. This is a less ambitious coin, but also one that’s considerably more affordable. It’s struck in 17.5 grams of 0.999 silver, less than a third of the weight of Mint XXI’s coin, but it’s actually 5mm bigger in diameter. That comes at the expense of eschewing any chance of high-relief, and this is a simple proof strike with a coloured reproduction of another of Durer’s self-portraits, in this case the one he did in 1500, the last of three he did.

As a highlight, there’s a small inset piece of amber, along with some patterns in the spaces around the portrait. It isn’t a coin to push any numismatic boundaries, but the choice of art is highly iconic, and its a relatively affordable coin. The obverse is a simple national emblem of Cameroon, which is disappointing, lacking any theming at all. The coin comes in a latex skin ‘floating’ frame and has a mintage of 550 pieces. Also available to order now.

ALBRECHT DURER (1471-1528)

Albrecht Dürer was a German painter, printmaker, and theorist of the German Renaissance. Born in Nuremberg, Dürer established his reputation and influence across Europe in his twenties due to his high-quality woodcut prints. He was in contact with the major Italian artists of his time, including Raphael, Giovanni Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci, and from 1512 was patronized by Emperor Maximilian I.

Dürer’s vast body of work includes engravings, his preferred technique in his later prints, altarpieces, portraits and self-portraits, watercolours and books. The woodcuts series are more Gothic than the rest of his work. His well-known engravings include the three Meisterstiche (master prints) Knight, Death and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514). His watercolours mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium.

Dürer’s introduction of classical motifs into Northern art, through his knowledge of Italian artists and German humanists, has secured his reputation as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance. This is reinforced by his theoretical treatises, which involve principles of mathematics, perspective, and ideal proportions.

Dürer’s Rhinoceros is the name commonly given to a woodcut executed Dürer in 1515. The image is based on a written description and brief sketch by an unknown artist of an Indian rhinoceros that had arrived in Lisbon in 1515. Dürer never saw the actual rhinoceros, which was the first living example seen in Europe since Roman times. In late 1515, the King of Portugal, Manuel I, sent the animal as a gift for Pope Leo X, but it died in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy in early 1516. A live rhinoceros was not seen again in Europe until a second specimen, named Abada, arrived from India at the court of Sebastian of Portugal in 1577, being later inherited by Philip II of Spain around 1580.

Dürer’s woodcut is not an entirely accurate representation of a rhinoceros. He depicts an animal with hard plates that cover its body like sheets of armour, with a gorget at the throat, a solid-looking breastplate, and what appear to be rivets along the seams. He places a small twisted horn on its back and gives it scaly legs and saw-like rear quarters. None of these features is present in a real rhinoceros, Despite its anatomical inaccuracies, Dürer’s woodcut became very popular in Europe and was copied many times in the following three centuries. It was regarded by Westerners as a true representation of a rhinoceros into the late 18th century. It has been said of Dürer’s woodcut: “probably no animal picture has exerted such a profound influence on the arts”.

DENOMINATION 10 Cedis (Ghana) 500 CFA (Cameroon)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 62.2 grams 17.50 grams
DIMENSIONS 50.0 mm 50.0 mm
FINISH Antique Proof
MODIFICATIONS Colour, high relief Colour, Amber insert
MINTAGE 500 550
BOX / C.O.A. Yes / Yes Yes / Yes