Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer

I spent the day with Albrecht Dürer’s monsters yesterday.

An exhibition at Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts presents about 75 prints from the museum’s collection of more than 300 woodcuts, engravings, and etchings by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), the supreme master of northern Renaissance printmaking.

The emphasis is on monsters, witches, hybrid animals and marauding soldiers. An introduction to a room themed with images of the suffering of Christ and the horrors of war says:
“Just as the media of the twenty-first century—whether films, video games, or comic books—reflect the pervasiveness of violence in our culture, Dürer’s images mirrored his own society’s fascination with human torment..”

The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer will continue through March 13.
Visitor's Information for the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts, USA Exhibit is free.


David Glenn said...

They look pretty creepy. I think that if people in those days saw a dinosaur, they'd die of fright.

My Pen Name said...

@ david
they were exposed to far more real danger, poverty, violence, death than most of us will ever know or care to know. In a sense we as a people are far more cowardly and have our heads in the sand about the inevitability of death and the briefness of life (myself included!)

and many animals that they did see or hear of, were just as strange or large, as dinasaurs - elephants.

Side note, I understand Durer's famous picture of a rhinoceros was not done from a specimen ,but from another artists illustration.

Markus Bühler said...

The famous indian rhino of Albrecht Dürer can be seen in many, nearly identical (but often lesser artistic) versions of later artists, for example in the famous "Historia animalium" of Albrecht Dürer. The Dürer-rhino may look like a fantasy creature at the first look, but if you take a closer look at it, it´s actually surprising how life-like it really is. The various wrinkles of the thick skin for example are in their position and shape nearly identical to those of real indian rhinos. The shape of the head is also extremely life-like, and even if Dürer hasn´t seen himself the rhino, he must have had a drawing of a very sharp-sighted and talented artist. Of course the details of the "scales", especially on the legs, are not life-like, but the "rivet-head"-like structures are in fact very close to the actual structure of indian rhino hide. But what´s about the shoulder horn? This looks really quite strange, even somewhat surrealistic. But surprisingly, this is not a pure invention. Indian rhinos can on occasion really have a horn-like structure in the shoulder region. I have seen (and of course photographed) a taxidermy specimen with such an outgrowth on the shoulder at a museum. I have to admit that it doesn´t look at all like a twisted unicorn-horn or narwhale-tusk, but resembles more some kind of crest with a very rugged structure. Some early naturalists even supposed that indian rhinos used their shoulder-horns in fights against each other. I suppose they were strongly influenced by Dürer´s depiction.

jeff jordan said...

Different monsters, different wars, different weapons--otherwise the more things change, the more they stay the same.........

Max West said...

Wow. I have the Taschen book on Durer and it doesn't mention stuff like this.

This is quite a surprise. Who would have thought that Durer created monstrosities like that of Brueghel, Bosch, or Goya?

Agapetos said...

Dürer was a great artist! I cherish him also for his beautiful and detailed naturalist watercolor works.

Julia Lundman said...

I also recommend reading the book, "How the Irish Saved Civilization", as an introduction to what that time was like.

Albrecht Durer was one artist that inspired me as a child to draw. His extreme detail seemed more like the human hand was in there than anything I saw previously. I think it was his famous rabbit painting in particular that inspired me - these scary images might have freaked me out as a six year old. haha

My Pen Name said...

"How the Irish Saved Civilization", as an introduction to what that time was like.
Duer is contemporary with Michangelo, not the dark ages, however it was the beginning of the reformation which was also a rebellion of the north german princes against the Hapsburgs... so in other words, it was pretty darn violent, and the four horsemen were all too well known.

Agapetos: I have always loved this one - making such beauty out of an ordinary clump of turf.. who needs mountains?

Don Cox said...

I think Durer's best "monster" is the Satan in the print "The Knight, Death and Satan". There is a fairly good reproduction of this in Dover's "Complete Engravings, Etchings and Drypoints of Albrecht Durer". Web images are much too low resolution to give any adequate idea of a fine engraving, and even the Dover image is blurred by being printed as a half-tone.

Gutenberg have an interesting travel journal by Durer here. Definitely worth a read.