How Dürer’s Travels Reveal His Insatiable Appetite for Art

Albrecht Dürer, “Saint Jerome” (1521), oil on oak, 60 x 48 cm. National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon (© Portuguese Institute of Museums, Ministry of Culture, Lisbon)

LONDON – Despite the fact that Albrecht Dürer, the son of a highly talented and conceited Hungarian goldsmith from Nuremberg, died in 1528 at the age of 56, my last meeting with him actually took place in the spring. last year.

Miracle? Something more complicated. One of the editors had commissioned me to review the book. Someone, a former BBC man, had let her down. Shall I go up to the board? I would like. I would like. It was a book about Dürer, written by an author who had recently won a grand prize for a work of non-fiction. I dived in.

I rose trembling. I didn’t like the book very much. I was bothered by his stinging and reckless confusion. He seemed to be trying to imitate Dürer’s own personality, and temperament, but in a way that was too clever, too polite by half. Moreover, the physical thing itself was a miserable piece of bookmaking in my opinion, the images pressed tightly into their last pages as if at best an afterthought, and too small for their own good, the paper on which the book was already printed and is grayish…I told Editor all of this. I made it clear to her that my review would not be a hymn of praise. I suggested not writing about it after all. Fine.

Albrecht Dürer, “A Lady from Brussels” (1520), brown pen and ink, 16 x 10.5 cm. Albertina Museum, Vienna (3161) (© Albertina, Vienna)

And now I’m in the press’s point of view Dürer’s Travels: Travels of a Renaissance Artist In the National Gallery, as I gazed at a map of his travels around Europe, I read of the man’s bustle, his impatience, if not his rush, to be, see, and learn, his somewhat unattractive level of self-confidence, his violent character, his irritability, and the fact that he was puffed up with self-praise…

Yes, Dürer could not stop. Swallow it all. The boy from Nuremberg had to outsmart everyone who had preceded him. Constantly striving, always turbulent, he grasped the art of woodcarving, the art of engraving. He made a careful examination of the meticulous work of illuminated manuscripts. Study how rocks are formed. He peered into the quarries and drew what he saw. He learned lessons from Vitruvius on how to visualize the perfectly formed and well-proportioned “man of form.”

But this was not enough. He was short and adorable Not Elaborate composition or perfectly proportioned. Being perfect or lonely is a lie. You’ll notice the different images of babies in this show, all delightful in their physical making, and all striking with the body of real babies.

Albrecht Dürer, “Burkhard of Speyer” (1506), oil on panel, 31.7 x 26 cm. Led by Her Majesty the Queen. (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020)
Albrecht Dürer, “The Twelve-Year-Old Head of Jesus” (Study on “Christ Among the Physicians”) (1506), Gray brush and ink, with white increment, on blue paper, 27.5 x 21.1 cm. Albertina Museum, Vienna (3106) (© Albertina, Vienna)

Dürer was a great traveler – he went to Colmar, Basel, Strasbourg, Venice, the Low Countries, and other places, always looking for art and artists. He learned from them – and others learned from him. He met the elderly Giovanni Bellini in Venice, where he lived from 1505 to 1507, and despite the advancing age of Venice, Dürer considered him still the greatest artist of his time. While in Venice, he paid particular attention to the art of portraiture: how to frame, set off, and individualize; How to sculpt in almost two dimensions; How to crop tightly, head and shoulders only. One of the best examples of such works is the head of Bellini the Great by “Doge Loredan” (1501), expressed as if it were a Roman bust. This painting was painted two or three years before Dürer arrived in Venice, and he may have seen it. It is on permanent display elsewhere in this building. (What else did you learn in Venice? The virtues of drawing on blue paper.)

He made extraordinary cycles of prints, taking an imaginative journey from biblical stories, and the lives of saints. These are among his greatest works – and they are the greatest works in this show. These densely symbolic prints of him, though small in their subject matter, and challenging, even oddly surprising, in their details, are emotionally and intellectually inexhaustible. And a lot has been written about it—rightfully so, too. Who is tired of the picture “Melenculia I” (1514), or fully understood its depths? Why this gloom? Or failed to be thrilled by his astounding Knights of the Apocalypse, a series of 15 woodcuts he self-published, loosely based on the wild and often frightening visions of Saint John Patmos, as told in the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible? What has the printmaker achieved so much in just -! – Monochrome? Who has ever shown really well how to unlock a wallpaper, or (except perhaps Mantegna) given perfect lessons on pre-default? Such was the impulsive fecundity of his imagination.

Albrecht Dürer, “The Lion” (1494), Gouache on parchment paper, gold high, 12.6 x 17.2 cm. Kupferstichkabinett, Hamburger Kunsthalle (23005) (© Photo Scala, Florence/bbk, Picture Agency for Art, Culture and History, Berlin/photo: Christoph Irrgang)

Dürer also yearned to be a painter to match the best of them. Unfortunately, the difficulty of painting – and he looked to be a great painter to prove himself as proficient in colors as black and white – was that the oils were so slow to dry, Dürer always wanted to move in, to be elsewhere – in the zoo, on for example. He wanted things to happen very, very quickly, at least at the speed of his silver mind.

And this show teaches us a lot about Dürer’s mind. Among the occasional delightful are samples of the written records of what Dürer himself thought and felt–parts of his diaries, diaries, and letters; Or a list, in a fleshy, leather-wrapped book of 1520, kept by the British Museum, of texts owned by Martin Luther, an equally stubborn and self-confident contemporary, written in Dürer’s very fine handwriting. At such moments, Dürer feels too close to all his brawling and reckless intellectual evil.

Albrecht Dürer, “Two Livonian Women” (1521), brown pen and ink, watercolor, 18.4 x 19.5 cm. Louvre Museum, Paris (20DR) (© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Thierry Le Mage)
Albrecht Dürer, “Madonna and Child” (circa 1496-99), oil on panel, 52.4 x 42.2 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1952.2.16.a (courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC)

Dürer’s Travels: Travels of a Renaissance Artist The exhibition will run at the National Gallery (Trafalgar Square, London, England) until 27 February 2022. The exhibition was moderated by Susan Foster, Deputy Director and Director of Collections at the National Gallery.


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