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Work View of the Arco Valley

Department of Prints and Drawings: 14th-15th centuries

Vue du val d'Arco dans le Tyrol méridional

Prints and Drawings
14th-15th centuries

Grollemund Hélène

This view of Arco, a rocky outcrop topped by a citadel to the north of Lake Garda, is one of Dürer's finest and most elaborate landscapes. It was executed in 1495 when he was returning from his first trip to Italy, along the road from Venice to his native city of Nuremberg. On the way, Dürer executed about fifteen watercolor landscapes, now found in Vienna, Berlin, Bremen, and London. This is one of the best known.

The Return from Italy

One fine spring morning in 1495, when Dürer was traveling from Venice to Brenner via Trent, he stopped near Arco, a citadel perched on a rocky outcrop north of Lake Garda. He had come from Venice, where he could well have seen landscapes by Carpaccio, Cima da Conegliano, and Bellini, and was on his way to Nuremberg. No doubt he had wanted to see Lake Garda and was suddenly struck by the spectacle of nature coming to life in early spring and of a fortress, which perhaps stirred memories of his homeland. The annotation is believed to have been added circa 1502-1503; the monogram is also a later addition.

Two phases

This work seems unfinished only in the centre right, whereas all the other watercolors painted during Dürer's first Italian sojourn make good use of unfinished effects to suggest immediacy. Most of these watercolors date from the journey to Venice. The more elaborate appearance of this work may be due to greater stylistic maturity; however, the foreground may also have been added later - the colors are different and the style is rather drier than in the main subject. The pale tonalities of the watercolors may be the result of Mantegna's influence.

Power, balance, and clarity

Dürer's watercolor landscapes have a special place in European art circa 1500 but generated no immediate imitators, even among his pupils. Here, while accurately describing the topographical features of the site, Dürer has tried to capture the poetic light and color of the spring landscape. The gray-blue of the olive trees and the very pale tones of the watercolors are evocative of the countryside in early morning. Dürer has admirably rendered the vegetation, especially the grape vines. The crenellations on the walls around the little village are perhaps slightly oversized, but they emphasize Dürer's interest in protective fortifications. Similarly, the mountains that tower above the outcrop have been deliberately omitted to focus attention on the central motif. And indeed a feeling of tempered, balanced power emanates from this fresh, luminous watercolor.


Starcky Emmanuel, notice 33, in Dessins de Dürer et de la Renaissance germanique dans les collections publiques parisiennes, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1991.
sur les aquarelles :
Leber Hermann, Albrecht Dürers Landschaftsaquarelle : Topographie und Genese, Hildesheim, G. Olms, 1988.
Hermann-Fiore Kristina, "Dürers neue Kunst der Landschaftsaquarelle", in Albrecht Dürer, Wien, Albertina, 2003, pp. 26-43.

Technical description

  • Albrecht Dürer (1471, Nuremberg-1528, Nuremberg)

    View of the Arco Valley

    Circa 1495

  • Pen and brown ink, watercolor and gouache highlights, retouched in black ink

    H. 22.3 cm; W. 22.2 cm

  • Jabach Collection; purchased for the Cabinet du Roi in 1671

    INV 18579

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Annotated by Dürer in pen and black ink, upper right: "fenedier klawsen" (Venetian collar) and by another hand in pen and brown ink, the artist's monogram.