Between the Medieval and The Modern

January 4, 2011

Appreciating Albrecht Dürer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frau Magda @ 9:37 pm
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For many many years now whenever I see a nice coffee table Art or Art History book on the remainder shelf of a bookstore, I’ve taken it home with me. When I my interest was mainly Elizabethan England, I collected quite a few Hans Holbein books. Now that my focus has shifted from England to Bavaria, I’ve been collecting Albrecht Dürer.

Last year the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston had a small exhibit of images by Albrecht Dürer. I went to see them with a friend in March, and then went back for a quick second solo visit in June, just before the exhibit closed. The MFA exhibit focused on is woodcuts, drawings, and etchings, but Durer also worked in watercolor and oils.  He was recognized as a master when he was still in his twenties.   He became so famous that people would add his famous monogram (his initials) to woodcuts by other artists in order to increase sales.

Hans Sebald Beham woodcut
with AD monogram
Circa 1520

After the visit in March I found a collection of Dürer’s woodcuts on DVD. When the disc arrived I was disappointed to find that one the images from the exhibit that I most wanted to have, Seige of a Fortress, was not included in the 300+ images on the DVD.

But that’s not my point. As excellent as the MFA’s exhibit was, I think that they missed a real opportunity in not including any of Dürer’s earliest woodcuts in the exhibit. I think that to really appreciate his growth as an artist, you have to have seen some of his earliest works.

Maybe the MFA doesn’t have any of his earlier works in their collection (this exhibit was only from their own collection). But I do.

My DVD grouped his work into folders by year, so I don’t always have exact dates for the following images. But the improvement in artistic technique is remarkable.

Look at how a simple depiction of a boat changed over the span of only three or four years.

In the span of three or four years he went from creating horses that looked like this

to horses that looked like this.

1501 Saint Eustance

Like many artists, Dürer returned to the same subjects again and again. His improvement is especially clear when you look at images of the same subject. Like these images of Saint Christopher from early and later in his career.

Saint Christopher (circa 1490 – 1494)

Saint Christopher (circa 1509 – 1512)


And as an early 16th century reenactor, I am grateful that we have artists of his caliber to help us recreate the era. When I’m looking for specific details (seam lines, fastenings, wood joinery, etc.) I find myself turning again and again to Dürer.

Further Reading

I encourage you to start your own Dürer library. Dover Publications have several different volumes of his work available. I own the following:


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