Allegory of Avarice Albrecht Durer Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This gruesome artwork comes from the career of German Renaissance artist, Albrecht Durer. He was highly skilled as a portrait painter, but rarely worked in the shocking style shown within this portrait of an elderly woman.

The artist would have been in his mid-thirties at the time that he produced this memorable piece, arriving as it did in 1507. He received a large number of commission requests as his career took off, most of which were for portraits of each patron, but sometimes he would actually veer away from this and be more creative in the choices of his subjects. Clearly here he has not painted a subject at their request, but is instead looking to deliver a message through various features of this composition. Once we get over the initial shock of the woman's appearance, we can then quickly identify some of these elements and start to wonder about their precise meaning. For example, she holds a bag full of coins, and also one of her breasts is revealed to the viewer. Her teeth are in an awful state and her overall demeanor is one of desperation and vulnerability. Additionally, her hair is grey and withering, with her skin very tight and unhealthy in tone.

Many have made the direct comparison between this painting and also Old Woman, sometimes known as Col tempo, which came from the career of Giorgione. We do know that Durer loved to travel around the continent in search of new ideas and innovations for his work. He was particularly impressed by what he found in Italy, and would tour the country several times, and so the influence of Giorgione may well have been present in his construction of Allegory of Avarice. The overall theme and content of both of these artworks can be classed under the term of vanitas, where mortality is discussed alongside some of the seemingly inevitable experiences of life. Melencolia I was another example of this. The main focus within Avarice, therefore, is probably to underline the impact of age, and the inevitable loss of beauty as one gets older.

The painting can be found in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, where you can also find a number of other Durer paintings, such as the extraordinary Adoration of the Trinity. This venue is considered one of the finest locations in the world from which to learn and study the great masters, with an impressive building which hosts original artwork from many of the biggest names in traditional European art. Raphael is well served here, as are the likes of Tintoretto and Titian, to name just a few of the significant painters whose work is displayed here. The overall collection has taken centuries to put together, through a variety of means including private acquisitions and also some generous donations from local collectors.

Allegory of Avarice in Detail Albrecht Durer