Part 2 – Discovering the Secret Dürer Cipher

Elizabeth Garner – Discovering the Dürer Cipher: Hidden Secrets In Plain Sight, Part 2

 Copyright Oct 28, 2012 by Dr. Elizabeth Garner

Elizabeth Garner

Secret codes in Melancholia

In this second article of Discovering the Dürer Cipher: Hidden Secrets In Plain Sight, we will focus on one of Dürer ’s strange prints to demonstrate at a high level some basics of how the Dürer Cipher works. Believed to have been published in 1498, there is no previous historical consensus about the meaning of this print and we have no evidence what Dürer titled this image.

Secret Codes in the Temptation of the Idler

Temptation of the Idler

The name of the full image, shown on the left, has often changed over the centuries. It has been called “a man sleeping in a bath, with Venus inspiring his dreams,” “Mars and Venus,” “The Temptation of the Idler,” the “Dream of the Doctor,” and what I think is the weirdest of all, the famous 20th century Dürer scholar, Erwin Panofsky, related this print to a Roman legend about boccia.


Let’s look at the symbols in the composition. The stove on the left is a Hungarian stove, as is the wooden chest behind the woman. These are Hungarian signifiers, significant clues that tell us Dürer is indicating something Hungarian and his Hungarian ancestry (by his father). Look closely at the enlargement of the grate beneath the man’s feet in the middle of the collage, it is the symbol of St. Lawrence (he was martyred on a grate), signifying this man’s name is Lawrence. The naked woman (it appears Dürer used nudity for marketing purposes only) wears a ring on her left hand pinky, lower right of the collage, a symbol of St. Catherine, signifying her name is Catherine. The little boy, middle bottom of the collage, has eagle wings reminiscent of the eagle wings of the Dürer coat of arms, and the boy plays with stilts, a symbol associated with St. Nicholas, signifying his name is Niklas. The boy plays next to another Hungarian signifier, the Hungarian tribute ball (not the Italian Renaissance symbol interpreted as a symbol representing Fortune or Fate), indicating that Dürer was giving tribute to these people. In the upper portion of the collage, there is a dragon (it doesn’t have horns), not a devil, putting the end of a bellows into the man’s ear, the same type of dragon we find in Dürer ’s father’s coat of arms, who was known as Albrecht the Elder, a goldsmith.

Who were Lawrence, Catherine, and Nicholas? Dürer’s relatives.

This composition is a tribute to a branch of the Dürer family that remained in Hungary after Dürer’s father emigrated to Nuremberg. Ladislas Dürer (Ladislas is Hungarian for Lawrence), Dürer’s uncle, was a saddler who used bellows in his work (the dragon holds a bellows), his wife was named Catherine, and Niklas was their son, apprenticed as a goldsmith to Dürer’s father. Niklas grew up with Dürer in his father’s household and was his favorite cousin. It is probable that Dürer made this tribute composition because Uncle Larry had died, and he disguised this homage to make the print more commercially saleable.


To date, I have found encoding in at least 60 of 335 of Dürer’s graphic prints and unraveled their messages. However, my recent discoveries suggest the probability that more coded messages exist in additional images. And even more astonishing was discovering that he exploited subliminal sexual imagery in prints to cause people to notice hidden messages. In my next article, I will reveal some more astounding encodings that I have found, all of which have been hiding in plain sight. To be continued!

Best wishes,


11 Responses “Elizabeth Garner – Discovering the Dürer Cipher: Hidden Secrets In Plain Sight, Part 2” →

  1. marygarnermitchellOctober 28, 2012

    Fascinating! Thank you so much! I look forward to the next installment,


    Mary Garner Mitchell Design


  2. m prescottOctober 28, 2012

    I am besides myself how in the world as expressed by the writer generations of art historians missed all this diamond gold information. the writer ought to be titled by the art world as an expert in durer. i cannot wait to say the least what else can she bring to the table and who is she. can we as readers find out more about the writer. im wondering how and what process she used to decipher close to 500 years of art. this should and most likely have a very strong impact on the commercial side right?


    • durersleuthOctober 28, 2012

      Hello M Prescott,

      Thank you for the compliment and kind words. It is my intent to disclose at a very high level what my methodology was in future articles. What I will say for now is that no one could have found this without analyzing everything about Durer as businessman first and then map the publication of artworks to his business behaviors and passions. Durer is known for the Large Passion, the Small Passion, the Engraved Passion, the Green Passion (never published), and the Albertina Passion, but Durer’s passion was MONEY, and he died among the 100 top richest men in Nuremberg in 1528.

      And so for me, the major question was WHO would buy these strange prints in a market arena that wasn’t known for buying “contemporary art” of its day. And when the Cipher emerged and revealed some of the messages, it became, how did Durer get away doing what he was doing and not be arrested? for it was a risk that could have led to the destruction of the entire family.

      His genius is unparalled for deception.

      I had to explore every avenue I could think of that was “out of the box” thinking, delving into medieval German law, disease waves, such a plague and especially syphilis (Durer was commissioned to make a public health broadside against syphilis), fashion, food, death registries, agricultural practices, mathematical analyses of how print fairs were logistically staged, the lives of the Nuremberg Patricians, papermaking and watermarks, historical events, and I had to take an enormously long detour into the making of the Nuremberg Chronicles, where I found some critical clues.

      I was fortunate to have had an extremely credential art librarian help me and she suggested I make a timeline about everything that was happening to Durer, those of all his family and connections, and the technological and political events that were occurring. The patterns then began to emerge

      There are some very BIG surprises that will floor art historians, concepts that have never been entertained about Durer’s art

      I will also say that there are encodings in some of the paintings and also in some of the drawings, which is intriguing that Durer would be encoding in what one would expect to be private documents.

      I have a BS in Finance, I am an attorney, and my career was international computer consulting, and I have extensive experience with manufacturing companies. It helped that I was once married to a printer. So I combined my expertise from all these disciplines to analyze objectively data that I found and how to analyze it. I even engaged an actuary to run some what if scenarios when it came to analyze the printing processes and that was key to do.

      I am currently pursuing a fine arts degree, almost done! It helped that one of my best professor’s favorite artist was Albrecht Durer.


  3. Jason DineOctober 28, 2012

    HI Elizabeth

    This is fascinating stuff! Thanks. How about a clue for next week’s installment?



  4. durersleuthOctober 28, 2012

    Hi Jason,

    Look for rings and things next time!


  5. Jason DineOctober 28, 2012

    Will do, looking forward to it.



  6. This was the most interesting, revealing, intriguing article I have read in ages.I am really looking forward to the next “installment”. Knowing about the artist and his times surely makes
    for much deeper involvement with the viewed works. This article is also humbling in that I have seen this work and of course others, and “thought” I saw and understood what I was seeing. Wrong. I only “saw” a small part of what was before my eyes. Thank you for opening a new vista. Now I am eagerly anticipating the next installment. And I thank you for this one.
    Joan Carl


  7. m prescottOctober 29, 2012

    I wonder what German Art Historians think about the Durer Cipher? Buggles my mind with the new findings. Ms Garner what is your opinion.


  8. durersleuthOctober 30, 2012

    I’m so glad you asked that question. Through various means I have made them aware of my findings for years now and to my surprise I have not heard from anyone. I have been shocked and dismayed at the lack of interest. They have not attempted to even open the door for a dialogue. I invite their public response and the response from you, the AAD community.


  9. Gail GreenOctober 30, 2012

    Sleuth, indeed… the rare book librarian and historian, you have uncovered the symbols and signs of an allegorical composition. Durer seems to have enjoyed creating such ciphers as much as you have delighted in their decoding.


  10. durersleuthOctober 31, 2012

    Thank you Gail. The evidence does point to a certain glee on Durer’s part in what he had hidden in plain sight for certain compositions, much to my surprise. That was part of his business model and the challenge in understanding that. And yes, each time a message revealed itself, it was a “eureka” moment.


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3 thoughts on “Part 2 – Discovering the Secret Dürer Cipher

  1. Hello Elizabeth,
    I like very much your serious blog. I looked up my database and found in the Lot Notes of the sale Christie’s: OLD MASTER PRINTS AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE COLLECTION Location London, King Street Sale Date Dec 05, 2006 Lot Number 36 Sale Number 7480, the following: “The Dream of the Doctor is one of the most amusing and intriguing of Dürer’s engravings. Despite the vague traditional title, the true subject of this print was well understood at its time. Giorgio Vasari knew the engraving and gave a good description of it: A man is sleeping by a stove. In his dream Venus, standing next to him, is tempting him, while Amor is amusing himself and tries to walk on stilts. The Devil is blowing into his ear with bellows. Of course, there is a moral lesson and a warning here: Sloth leads to graver sins, to lust and wantonness, and earthly love is fickle. In spite of this, Albrecht Dürer approached the subject rather light-heartedly, and few of his figures are more charming than the little winged putto, playing with his ball and precariously trying to balance on stilts. ”
    Did you know that Vasari referred to it?
    All the best,
    K. Bender

    1. Thank you K. Bender,

      I am very happy that you enjoy this site. I will look forward to more of your visits.

      Yes, I am aware of Vasari’s references. I had to do a double take on the auction record, for I bought m print at auction from either Sotheby’s or Christies, but I don’t think until 2009

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