April 26, 2011

Dürer's Prints

        I don't suppose there's anything I can say in a short blog post that could add to the general knowledge about Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and his work as one of the most famous European artists of block prints.  Like many Renaissance artists, Dürer was also interested in math and science, especially perspective, anatomy, and fortifications.  He also combined elements of the Northern and Italian styles of art as no other artist did.
        I feature Dürer, of course, for his fame as a maker of relief prints.  In his own lifetime his paintings were not widely seen, but prints were (relatively) inexpensive, portable, and numerous.  The prints not only made Dürer famous, they also made him rich.  Indeed, he complained that paintings weren't worth his time compared with prints.  On the other hand, Dürer didn't spend as much time on the making of a print as I do, because his job was only to draw the design.  It was someone else's job to carve the wood block, and someone else again who did the printing.
        Dürer got his earliest training as an apprentice in the workshop responsible for the Nuremberg Chronicle.  There he would have learned how to work with the Formschneider (wood block cutters), and how to push the limits of what was possible with the woodcut
medium.  But he proceeded to learn from a variety of masters and artists in a variety of media, including goldsmithing, oil painting, drypoint engraving (an intaglio technique), and watercolor.  Strange as it is for me to say such a crazy thing, I actually tend to like Dürer's watercolors better than his woodcuts!  Still, it's impossible not to admire the ambition and detail of his woodcuts and wood engravings.  Many of them show an eye for authentically observed detail that not only sets his work apart from Gothic style, but also makes it fun to look closely at the corners and backgrounds of his pieces.  There are often hidden treasures to be found.
        My favorite Dürer woodcut is definitely the famous Indian rhinoceros, a portrait of a beast that was sent to Lisbon in 1515.  Dürer never actually saw the creature, which explains some of the features in his version.  (No one else in Europe had seen a rhino, either, which explains why his picture was taken to be scientifically accurate right up into the eighteenth century.)  He based his picture on a written description and a sketch.  (I haven't seen the sketch in question.  I'm assuming it is not still extant, but I don't know that for sure.)  But I love all the details of pattern and texture on this guy.  It is one of the first pieces I saw for which I remember being aware that it was the woodcut medium that gave it a look I really liked.

Rhinoceros, woodcut by Dürer, 1515;
Noli me tangere, woodcut by Dürer, 1511;
Little Owl, watercolor by Dürer, 1508;
The Flight Into Egypt, woodcut by Dürer, 1503;
Chelidonium, watercolor by Dürer, 1526.
(All pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 
     Thank you!)]


Pax said...

Did you see that an incomplete copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle has recently been found in a fund-rasing event in Utah? What fun! Who knows what treasures might be lurking . . . .

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

No, I hadn't seen that. How cool!

Penny Watson said...

Oh, the rhinoceros is fabulous!

Nan said...

The rhino lifts "zentangles" into fine art. LOL

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

I had to look up "zentangles," but it looks just like the best doodles I used to do... and you're right - Dürer's rhino does have a look of very satisfying doodling in his patterns. =D

artseniku said...

glad to meet this blog..

formschnider center said...

the change between just before Durer and when his first wood cuts were printed is black and white. the skill level etc. i think he had a personal hand in some of the cutting. remember the guild system did not exist in Nuremberg as it had been outlawed.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Hello, formschnider. I didn't know that the guild system had been outlawed. Interesting. And I tend to agree with you that Dürer may have been involved with the cutting and printing - after all, he tried his hand at so many other art techniques.