major exhibition at the British Museum examines Dürer's development
as a graphic artist. Over 200 works on display include the iconic Adam
and Eve, his famous Rhinoceros and the colossal Triumphal Arch.
Albrecht Durer (1471–1528) was in a sense the first truly international
artist. Printmaking was the necessary medium of German popular culture
just as it was the essential, international conduit of Renaissance iconography
and ideas. Dürer saw how to exploit the new technologies of printing
to ensure that his works were known. He was perhaps the first to realise
the freedom this mass medium offered the artist: he could design, publish
and sell his own woodcuts and engravings. The AD monogram became a trademark
recognised and respected world-wide. His drawings and his prints, on which
his reputation was built, are at the heart of this exhibition, the first
to be devoted to him in Britain for more than 30 years.
printed images tap into the new knowledge he got from Renaissance Italy
- not just perspective but the rediscovery of the classical nude and pagan
myth - and fuse it with older, lower sources, making an art that deploys
Renaissance aesthetics to some pretty populist ends.
As a prelude to the Museum’s 250th anniversary year in 2003, the
exhibition will celebrate the superlative collection of Dürer prints,
drawings and watercolours in The British Museum, many of which were Sir
Hans Sloane’s original bequest to the Museum in 1753 - and is supplemented
by around 50 important loans from other collections including the National
Gallery, the Royal Collection, the Ashmolean Museum and star pieces from
Berlin and Vienna.
Two superb drawings, the Albertina's Self-portrait as a thirteen-year
old and the world famous Praying Hands, have never before been displayed
in this country.
The aim of the exhibition is to examine Dürer's extraordinary achievements
as a draughtsman and printmaker during his own lifetime and to look at
how the artist's widely-disseminated and innovative imagery influenced
artists and craftsmen for centuries to come. Dürer was an accurate,
loving student of nature; his art is full of meticulous, captivating depictions
of vegetation, animals, even a clod of earth. His landscape drawings,
such as Landscape with an Alpine Pool (c 1495-6) can easily be mistaken
for 19th-century watercolours. He drew and made prints of animals of all
kinds: a walrus, a lion, a rhinoceros. Yet his inexhaustible ingenuity
always came back to universal human images, to expressive metaphors for
the anguish of existence. There is no image that quite communicates anxiety
like Dürer's Knight, Death and Devil (1513).
The exhibition begins with an examination of the artist’s revolutionary
approaches to self-portraiture and looks at the differing ways that other
artists have represented and constructed his image over the centuries.
In 1500 Albrecht Dürer painted himself in the guise of a living god.
Only natural for a man who combined populism and spirituality, says Jonathan
Jones. The next sections follow the chronology of Dürer's life, with
an emphasis on a particular period or project in each. They include his
early years in Nuremberg; his first visit to Italy which stimulated him
to produce the earliest-known group of watercolour landscapes drawn from
nature to have survived in the history of western art; the production
of his virtuoso engraving Adam and Eve in 1504 with its numerous related
studies; his work for the Emperor Maximilian including the massive Triumphal
Arch – one of the largest prints ever produced - and his three enigmatic
master prints of 1513-1514, Knight, Death and the Devil, Melancholia and
St Jerome in his Study.
The following sections show the impact of Dürer's work on other artists,
including Germany, Holland and Italy (Rembrandt among them), and his long-standing
influence on ceramic designs from 16th century maiolica to 18th century
Meissen. A focus on the late 16th and early 17th century phenomenon known
as the Dürer Renaissance, largely created by the scarcity of the
master's work, shows how glossy pastiches and elegant copies of his work
became so highly sought after that artists such as Hans Hoffmann became
well-known primarily for their skill at producing them.
The exhibition concludes with Dürer's legacy in the 19th century,
particularly the way in which his work was interpreted by Romantic artists
such as Caspar David Friedrich. Amid the rise of German nationalism, Dürer's
name and art began to achieve a virtually iconic status and a final section
looks at how the artist became an object of almost religious veneration
in the elaborate festivals celebrating the anniversaries of his birth
and death dates of 1828 and 1871.
Admission £6 (£3 concessions),