Text copyright © Sept 17, 2012 Dr. Elizabeth A. Garner, All Rights Reserved
BUY THE BOOK! CRIMES IN THE ART: THE SECRET CIPHER OF ALBRECHT DÜRER
Taking a bath is a sensuous pleasure, besides basic hygiene. The Roman Empire was famous for its baths and incredible plumbing and sewage engineering. The Japanese culture elevated the bath to an art.
WHO WAS DIRTY?
For some strange reason the myth continues that people in the Renaissance were dirty, slovenly people killed off by plagues because they never bathed. Nothing could be further from the truth in the Germanic part of the Holy Roman Empire, especially in the Imperial City of Nuremberg, were personal cleanliness was highly prized.
What will probably come as a huge surprise to most was that in Nuremberg “bathing money” was a regular part of a person’s salary, paid weekly, usually on Saturday. Workers got to leave work early to go to the baths, where the prices were kept low by the government so everyone could attend and be clean.
THE COMPLETE BATHING SERVICES
Professional bath attendants, whose apprenticeship was three years long, followed by seven years of journeymanship, were trained in the techniques of sanitary and medicinal bathing, as well as hair cutting, depilation (the fashion for men in Nuremberg was no beards), and simple blood letting. Health inspections were performed on a continual basis. The water was drawn from the local rivers running through the City (although most of that water was filthy!) through wooden pipes, then heated over wooden fires.
Nuremberg had 14 licensed baths. If one paid for the full treatment, it was an elaborate ritual. First a trumpet sounded or a bell was rung to signal the water was hot. Once inside and stripped of clothing, the feet were washed, then the body was scoured and slapped with a sheaf of twigs, next came steam bathing and rubbing to induce perspiration, swatting the skin with wet rags, scratching (for the pleasure of it; employees were required to provide this service), hair washing and cutting, combing, lavendering, blood letting, and finally a nap.
DÜRER’S BATH IMAGES
Dürer produced two illustrations of the bathing ritual, one a woodcut for sale of a Men’s Bath at the beginning of his career, circa 1496, and a drawing of a Woman’s Bathhouse, which never got published as a print.
The Women’s Bathhouse drawing was the first work unconnected to a religious theme to show naked humans in various positions.
STOLEN ART RECOVERED.
Please read the amazing story of the recovery of this extraordinary drawing that was stolen from the Bremen Kunstverein when the Red Army stormed a castle north of Berlin in 1945 and looted everything in their path.
THE MEN’S BATHHOUSE
The Men’s Bathhouse 1496
The Men’s Bath is an unusual print for its time (See my article Who Would Buy This Picture?) since this is the only graphic image that was made for sale of naked men in such a scene. Even more odd is the fact that these men are depicted naked in PUBLIC, in a City that religiously regulated clothing down to the number of pearls allowed to be on any garment and where all the inhabitants needed to be fully covered (See my entry All Things Albrecht Dürer: The Hidden Secrets in Albrecht Dürer’s Art and Life).
We have to ask ourselves, why would anyone spend money to buy a print for display in their homes or for addition to their collector’s boxes (where people often stored their prints) of naked men cavorting at the bath?
Especially since the majority of the people in the scene were well known. Who wants a picture of Donald Trump naked?
IMPORTANT PEOPLE SHOWN NAKED
It is believed that the figure in the center playing the flute is Dürer himself because he is bearded, with only a risqué codpiece covering his genitals. The two men in the foreground are believed to be the very sexually permissive Patrician (the ruling families of Nuremberg) Paümgartner brothers, Stephen and Lucas, who Dürer depicted in the Paümgartner Altar
Stephen Paümgartner was one of Dürer’s homosexual lovers; Dürer’s bisexuality, something not uncommon in the Renaissance, is rarely addressed by historians.
The man slugging from the beer stein is believed to be Willibald Pirkheimer, Dürer’s friend who is credited with making Dürer famous, a myth I will dispel. Pirkheimer was also extremely sexually active, probably with Dürer also.
The man on the left leaning on the wooden post is believed to be Michael Wolgemut, Dürer’s Master, with whom he apprenticed.
Who would buy this print? We have to look at the clues Dürer put in this print, which are mainly homosexual.
Notice the not so subtle homosexual clues that Dürer included. The first is the obvious “cock” spigot coming out of the wooden post on the left. Lucas Paümgartner, foreground right, is holding a flower. Wolgemut, leaning on the post is gazing longingly at Dürer. Most of the poses of the figures are very sexually suggestive.
Perhaps Dürer only printed this image for his friends? Perhaps he printed this to sell to the gay community as porn? Who would buy this picture?
The inscrutable clues, though, are right in the center of the print on the Dürer figure. It is the distinctive knot in the string of Dürer’s codpiece. Dürer uses this knot in other images also as clues.
And if you look close there is a bearded face embedded in Dürer’s abdomen. Who could this face be?
More than likely this print was sold at market by his mother and his sisters. Imagine the embarrassment these women would have had peddling such prints.
Which brings us to the ultimate question: Why was Dürer allowed by the government, the City Council, to publish this print of the rich and famous of Nuremberg essentially naked?