Basis for Dürer’s drawing?

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Features, Issue 3 (May/June 2012), Volume 20

Above: ‘Thus go the soldiers in Ireland behind England. Thus go the peasants in Ireland.’ Dürer’s drawing of 1521, made during his visit to the Low Countries. Its bipartite title reflects Vital’s ‘countrymen and savages’. Dürer had either read the account, had the men described to him or had seen a derivative tableau vivant of Irishmen in one of the elaborate town parades held in Antwerp. (Kuperferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen, Berlin)

Above: ‘Thus go the soldiers in Ireland behind England. Thus go the peasants in Ireland.’ Dürer’s drawing of 1521, made during his visit to the Low Countries. Its bipartite title reflects Vital’s ‘countrymen and savages’. Dürer had either read the account, had the men described to him or had seen a derivative tableau vivant of Irishmen in one of the elaborate town parades held in Antwerp. (Kuperferstichkabinett Staatliche Museen, Berlin)

‘These men deck themselves out in big hairy coats, over their heads in the same way as the women wear their cloaks in Brabant. This coat only goes a half-quarter beyond the belt, and over this is a long linen apron. Thus shorn, bearded, armed and barefoot—as I said—imagine how strange this costume is to look at. For sure, I have never seen anything like this before even in a painting.’
Vital’s pen-portrait of Irishmen—their exotic dress and the ferocious array of weaponry they carried—is almost certainly the source for the famous drawing of Irish gallowglasses done by Albrecht Dürer on a visit to Antwerp three years later. This discovery at last provides convincing proof to end the debate about whether real Irish soldiers were being depicted. It is clear now that Dürer’s drawing is an ‘artist’s impression’.

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