MFA exhibit captures technical capability of Durer in all its glory
More than 500 years ago, Albrecht Durer depicted a rhinoceros, naked witches and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in stunning prints that combined anatomical precision with visionary imagination.
Working from others' sketches and his own fancy, Durer lavished as much care on the rhino's scaled legs as the witches' voluptuous flanks. He conveyed apocalyptic terror by making the Four Horsemen's steeds trample humans as they galloped diagonally across his iconic woodcut.
In a just-opened exhibit, Durer emerges as a creative giant whose technical brilliance and innovative powers equipped him to span the Late Medieval period in which he was born and the Northern Renaissance which he significantly shaped.
The show, "Albrecht Durer: Virtuoso Printmaker" at the Museum of Fine Arts, features 50 engravings, woodcuts and drypoint images that confirm his reputation as one of the greatest of all Western printmakers.
Viewers will see several of the artist's iconic images such as "Melencolia," "The Fall of Man," "Saint Jerome in his Study," numerous lesser-known works and a display of several books on human proportion and designs for fortifications all drawn by Durer.
The show was organized by Clifford Ackley, department chairman and curator of prints and drawings, together with Assistant Curator Helen Burnham.
Describing the artist's achievements, Ackley said, "Durer was the leading figure of the late Gothic and High Renaissance German art, and he remains, like Rembrandt, Goya and Picasso, one of the supreme masters of printmaking."
Located in the Clementine Haas Michael Brown Gallery, this exhibit provides a generous sampling from the MFA's collection of 500 Durer prints by a master who left an indelible imprint on the Western imagination.
An improbable assortment of artists from Raphael, Titian and Goya to Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and American author Dan Brown have been influenced by Durer. A character in Brown's new bestseller "The Lost Symbol" searches for the hidden meaning of the enigmatic 1514 engraving "Melencolia."
As have scholars have done for centuries, viewers can also puzzle over the meaning of its brooding winged figure and the mysterious objects in the image, including an hourglass, sphere and saw.
Ackley credited Durer's enduring achievement to his "technical skill and terrific powers of observation and imagination," which he later summarized as "imagination, observation and execution."
Durer was born in Nuremberg in 1471, the third child and first son of parents who had between 14 and 18 children. His grandfather was a printmaker and his father was a goldsmith and young Durer absorbed both disciplines.
After apprenticing with several masters, Durer earned fame across Europe in his twenties as a landscape painter, portraitist and printmaker.
At an opening day tour, Ackley said he'd initially considered naming the exhibit "The Reinvention of Art" but changed his mind because he feared it sounded pretentious.
Many viewers will feel it sounded just right.