Conrad Celtis, Four Books of Love


Albrecht Dürer collaborated with the humanist Conrad Celtis on this patriotic work of pedagogy, which represents Germany as the legitimate inheritor of Greco-Roman learning. Celtis praised Dürer as a new Apelles (a famous ancient Greek painter). In the frontispiece at left, Dürer places his monogram, AD, at the base of the obelisk standing before Philosophy. Thus he joins the sages in the medallions who represent the cumulative wisdom of Egyptians, Chaldeans, Greeks, Romans, and the Germans. The Greek letters on the obelisk represent the seven liberal arts and form the ladder by which one ascends to Wisdom. Representing the winds, the four heads in the corners also stand for the four elements and the four bodily humors.

Another of Dürer’s woodcuts for Conrad Celtis’s book takes the form of a traditional presentation scene. Holding the wreath of a poet laureate, Celtis presents a copy of his book to Maximilian I. The enthroned emperor sits below the imperial eagle and the distinctive imperial crown. The frame employs classically inspired garlands, which in their abundance carry connotations of cornucopia (bountiful prosperity). The inscription adapts a passage from Exodus 21: “He that curseth his father [here, the emperor] shall die the death.”

Conrad Celtis (1459–1508)
Woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) and others
Quatuor Libri Amorum
(Four Books of Love), in Latin
Nuremberg: Sodalitas Celticae, 1502
The Morgan Library & Museum, PML 23296
Purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan, 1906

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Bequest of James Clark McGuire, 1931.54.59