Wall Gustav Waagen mentioning no less than ten, either paintings or drawings, known to him.. Of these our example is the most famous. It has a pyramidal arrangement. Saint Anne, with fixed look, her head and chin covered with a white drapery, rests her left hand on the Virgin’s shoulder and holds the sleeping Christ Child in her lap. Mary, her head lower than Saint Anne’s, with half-closed eyes and joined hands adores the Child. An exact study for the Saint Anne exists in a fine drawing in Chinese ink on gray paper heightened with white which is in the Albertina at Vienna.
The picture is signed and dated 1519. It comes from the Royal Gallery at Schleissheim near Munich, a country house of the Kings of Bavaria. With a number of other pictures from the same place it was sold at auction in 1852; Joseph Otto Entres of Munich, described as a sculptor and picture dealer, purchased it at that time for the sum of 50 florins. Its low price is explained by the statement that it was covered by a heavy coat of discolored varnish, which gave it a forbidding appearance. It was later bought by Jean de Couriss of Odessa at a price of 46,000 francs and came to Mr. Altman from the collection of Madame de Couriss, who also owned the Filippino Lippi of this collection.
In the middle of the last century this picture was the subject of a discussion between Ernest Forster on one side, who considered it to be undoubtedly an authentic work by Dürer, and Gustav Waagen and Otto Mündler on the other, who questioned this attribution. Moriz Thausing, in his monograph on the artist, reports the arguments (which may be read in full in the Deutsches Kunstblatt for 1854) and judges that those who pronounced against it did not take into due consideration the qualities of Dürer’s painting at the period, which, though showing no diminution in force of conception, is marked by a certain impatience in the rendering. They were inclined, he says, to exclude from the master’s work the pictures of lessened charm that came from his workshop.
It belongs to a time when the artist was chiefly concerned with engraving or drawings for engraving. His three masterpieces in this art-the Knight, Death, and the Devil; the Melancholia; and the Saint Jerome in his Cell were produced a few years before, and in 1519 he was engaged on the great Triumph of Maximilian, the last of a long series of drawings which he made for his imperial patron. Engraving was more profitable than painting. In a letter to Jacob Heller of Frankfort, written in 1509, he says, “I wish from now on to confine myself to my engravings; had I so decided years ago I might now be the richer by a thousand florins.”