Wednesday, October 7, 2020

480. Inspired by Dürer?

Last week's blog about An Emblem for Borgia discussed the image Ricketts designed for Michael Field's play Borgia (1905). What I did not touch upon was the iconographic inspiration for this emblem. Not that we know any details about direct examples for this image. The peculiar symbol of Fortuna as a winged wheel rolling downhill, only slightly held back by a hand, allows comparison with woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer.

Charles Ricketts, emblem for Borgia (1905)

Ricketts's drawing from 1905 consists of four elements: a sphere, a wing, a hand and a slope. Of all the famous depictions of the instability of destiny, those of Dürer are perhaps best suited to be juxtaposed with those of Ricketts.

Albrecht Dürer, 'Nemesis' (1501-1502)
[Metropolitan Museum, New York]

'Nemesis' is a good starting point for comparison. It shows the female figure of Fortuna above a landscape. Two elements from Rickets's drawing are the outspread wings attached to her back, and the sphere under her feet. This print, known as 'The Great Fortune', has a predecessor, which is called 'Fortuna (The Little Fortune)' and dates from 1495-1496. 

Albrecht Dürer, 'Fortuna' (1495-1496): detail
[Metropolitan Museum, New York]

A detail of this shows the sphere with both feet balancing on top of it. The way in which one foot is draped over the sphere is reminiscent of the hand on Ricketts's drawing. The shadow (on the left side of the sphere) suggests movement, although drawn in a completely different way than in Ricketts's drawing.

Albrecht Dürer, 'The Wheel of Fortune' (detail),
in Sebastian Brant, Das Narrenschiff (1494)

An example of a hand drawn by Dürer can be found in his illustration of the wheel of fortune in Sebastian Brant's Das Narrenschiff (1494). I would not suggest that Ricketts relied on his memories of Dürer's prints for this 1905 emblem, but the eclectic artist clearly worked in a long tradition for which he held the highest regard.