The Four Naked Women 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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The Four Naked Women is one of the titles given to the 1497 Engraving by the German Renaissance artist, Albrecht Durer. Other names that have been accorded to the same engraving include The Four Witches, Scene in a Brothel, and the Four Sorcerers. However, The Four Naked Women is the most common name for the engraving, perhaps because it simply describes what the engraving is about - a picture of four naked women.

Currently residing in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, the engraving has on its foreground three nude women, two of whom have their backs to the viewer and one whose frontal side is shown. These women, who some art experts have assumed to be Durer's family members, have particular headdresses that comment on their positions in the family and the society in general. The woman on the far most left side has an intricate headdress on indicating her married state, the woman in the middle has her hair tied in a knot with tresses and a wreath all around it indicating her youthfulness, and the woman on the far right has a very distinct Frullian headdress on that suggests her high position in the family.

Behind these three women is a woman of dark complexion whose body is hidden from view and who is assumed to be a servant because of the servant's turban on her head. The servant can be seen to be holding a drapery that covers the front genitals of the woman on the right. The woman on the right has deformed feet and below them, there is leg bone. There is also a skull at the feet of the woman in the middle. Above the four women, there is a hanging spere with a suspended ball over it. Written on the hanging sphere are the numbers "1", "4", "9" and "7" which make up 1497, the year Durer made the engraving. Below the year are the letters "O", "G", "H", which many have interpreted as a representation of the three women in the picture, but more on that later.

These women seem to be in an intimate room, perhaps a bath. The room has two exits, the right one is an arched doorway while the left is an open door which has a gruesome creature, commonly referred to as the devil, holding some kind of object engulfed in flames on the doorway. The three women in the foreground have often been dismissed as witches or sorcerers because of the nudity they are presented in and the presentation of the devil, the skull and the legbone in the room. However, it is important to note that Durer made this engraving way before witches were presented in medieval art hence disregarding that theory. To know who these women truly are, we must go back to the letters engraved on the hanging sphere above the women. Using the Latinized Greek Letter to denote the numerical position of the letters in the alphabet, we can clearly distinguish who these women are and their positions in the Durer family.

The "O" represents the 16th member of the family and the woman on the left, Christina. The "G" represents Agnes, the 7th member of the family and the woman in the middle, while the "H" represents Margaret, the 8th member of the family and the woman on the far right. The devil on the doorway, together with the skull and the leg bone presented at the feat of the sisters can be seen as something evil concerning the Durer family, something that can only be expressed by graphic nudity and gothic elements. The look of disgust Margaret gives her sister Christina who has her head bowed down in shame, serves as another evidence of this "evil" brewing inside the family.