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Dürer’s earliest engraving of the Virgin and Child theme features the Madonna seated on a grassy bench in an enclosed garden, a traditional subject alluding to her virginity. The divine presence of God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of the dove overhead reinforces her sacred role as the mother of the Messiah, while Joseph, idly napping to the side, imparts a sense of domesticity and humanity to the scene. Because Dürer returned to this theme continuously throughout his career, it is possible to track his artistic development in engraving. For example, Joseph’s awkward proportions reveal Dürer’s relative inexperience in the medium up to this point.

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