Published: October 26, 2010
Considered by many to be the greatest German artist of all time, Albrecht Dürer was celebrated during his lifetime as a painter, printmaker and writer. His techniques revolutionized printmaking, and his theoretical writings transformed the study of human proportion.
Deeply embedded in a tumultuous era of religious reformation and scientific inquiry, Dürer used his art to reflect the spiritual and social preoccupations of his time. “The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer,” on view at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute November 14⁍arch 13 will explore how and why Dürer’s visionary imagery remains arresting despite centuries of cultural change.
“Visitors will find monsters, knights and angels in ‘The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer’ exhibition, which focuses on Dürer’s fantastic imagination and timeless imagery,” said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. “The Clark’s collection of works by this Renaissance master is extraordinary, and we are pleased to be presenting 75 powerful prints, all from our collection, in the first comprehensive display of these works in more than 35 years.”
The exhibition takes an unusual approach to Dürer’s work by organizing his prints in themes that draw parallels to contemporary society: The Apocalypse, Symbolic Space, Battle and Anguish, Gender Anxiety, and Enigma.
Dürer’s “Apocalypse” series chronicles the end of the world as foretold in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. The 15 prints that comprise the series are teeming with monsters, devils, angels and saints from the artist’s fertile imagination. Originally published as a book in 1498, this series of woodcuts echoed the anxieties of a generation.
Dürer explored the themes of anguish, suffering, and violence throughout history from classical, biblical and contemporary times, often melding time periods in a single image. Around 1500, Dürer captured the horrors of the religious wars brought on by the Protestant Reformation, Christ’s suffering and the effects of his crucifixion in images of the Passion.
Dürer’s frequent focus on gender relationships ranged from Adam and Eve, depicting the biblical first couple, to suggestive dream states, to violent and erotic mythological creatures. The anxiety expressed in these prints centers on the perceived power struggle between women and men and the threat of unleashed passions.
The shifting meanings of these works are exemplified in their frequently changing titles; the luminous nude “Nemesis” was titled “The Great Fortune” in the Seventeenth Century, and “Four Naked Women” was referred to as “The Four Witches” in 1675. The impact of these prints is no less powerful today when gender equality remains a heated issue in every sphere of life.
The Clark’s collection numbers more than 300 Dürer prints. The bulk of the collection was acquired in 1968 from Tomás Joseph Harris, a scholar, artist and art dealer who served in the British Intelligence during the Second World War. The 75 prints represented here represent the best of the Clark’s Dürer’s holdings: “Hercules,” 1496, the “Apocalypse” series, 1496‱498, “Nemesis,” circa 1502, “Knight,” “Death and the Devil,” 1513, “Melencolia I,” 1514, and others.
The Clark is at 225 South Street. For information, 413-458-2303 or www.clarkart.edu .
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