Guest Author - Christine Sharbrough
Albrecht Durer was a German Renaissance artist and printmaker. His woodcut engravings are amazing in their subject matter and complexity. As the Renaissance progressed throughout the continent, a new patron of the arts developed – no longer was a work of art the sole possession of the aristocracy – the middle class also was able to afford engravings of the type that Durer produced.
Durer visited Italy for the first time in 1494. The influence of Italian Renaissance art is seen in his works for the next decade. He was influenced by the Venetian art of the Renaissance, particularly Bellini, although the master was quite old by the time he and Durer met. This influence is seen more in his paintings than in his woodcut engravings.
Durer came from a family of goldsmiths which may explain the extraordinary detailing of his engravings. Like Donatello who also worked as a goldsmith – Durer had the delicacy in detailing that only someone who had worked in gold could produce. Durer played with the human form in his works, being less concerned with the proportional appropriateness of form and instead opting for elongated and grotesque depictions.
Durer depicted the horrors of doomsday and those events that predicted the end of the world with disturbing force in his Apocalypse series. These woodcuts distinguish Durer from any other artist of his time. They are startling in their intensity. He veered away from the traditional depictions of religious scenes like St. Michael’s fight against the dragon by having the saint in an untraditional pose as he slays the dragon. He is not elegant or posed; he is instead rigidly spearing the dragon in the neck. Others are less detailed but no less beautiful in their simplicity, such as The Nativity in 1504.
Thankfully, Durer left quite a few autobiographical writings and letters which enabled him to be studied to a greater depth than many other artists of his time. His self awareness of his importance in the changing field of art history during the Renaissance appears to be one of the reasons that he kept such good records. In addition, he wrote several books to teach his peers.
Several U.S. museums have Durers amongst their collections. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has several Durer engravings along with a large collection of Renaissance and Medieval art. If you are in Boston, it is worth an afternoon visit to see their collection.