View of Arco, Albrecht Dürer, 1495

View of Arco, Albrecht Dürer, 1495
Watercolour and gouache on paper, 221 x 221 mm
Musée du Louvre, Paris


The Italian town of Arco is situated near the northern shore of Lake Garda, below a castle on the top of the hill. The town lies six miles west of the main route over the Alps, which runs north from Verona and over the Brenner Pass to Innsbruck.
This watercolour (inscribed `Venetian Outpost’) was done in 1495 on Dürer’s return journey from Venice. The vegetation suggests it was the late spring when Durer painted it.


Close to the sandy foreground is an olive grove and a vineyard. Beyond the vineyard, to the right, lies the walled town of Arco whose fortifications snake up the steep hillside to the twelfth-century castle. The view of Arco is a very carefully arranged composition, created at the expense of a certain degree of topographical truth. The narrow section of sheer rock face on the far left of the composition could not have been seen from the spot where the view was painted. Dürer also omitted the mountains behind the fortified hill to increase the drama of the setting. The painting’s delicate colours – greens, browns and greys – make it one of the artist’s most successful watercolours.


One of the curiosities of View of Arco is the hidden image of a scowling man which can be seen on the left side of the hill. Running almost the entire height of the cliffs, the profile of the man’s face looks leftwards and his pointed nose is particularly prominent. The rocks which compose his face are slightly lighter in tone than the surrounding cliffs, emphasizing the shape. Although initially it may be difficult to spot the hidden face, once seen it is unmistakable.


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