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Monday, July 1, 2013

Durer, Albrecht


Willow Mill
1498
Watercolor and gouache on paper
251 x 367 mm
Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France

The view is from the north bank of the River Pegnitz, on the outskirts of Nuremberg. The buildings in the center are the Grossweiden Mill and across the bridge on the left is the Kleinweiden Mill. In this watercolor, Durer was primarily interested in capturing the atmosphere of the stormy evening sky and the reflections in the water. This is arguably Durer's most accomplished watercolor landscape.

"Why has God given me such magnificent talent? It is a curse as well as a great blessing." (Durer)

Albrecht Durer (1471 - 1528) was a German painter and printmaker generally regarded as the greatest German Renaissance artist. His vast body of work includes altarpieces and religious works, numerous portraits and self-portraits, and copper engravings. His introduction of classical motifs into Northern art, through his knowledge of Italian artists and German humanists, have secured his reputation as the greatest Northern Renaissance artist. This is reinforced by his theoretical treatises, which involve principles of mathematics, perspective and ideal proportions. Durer exerted a huge influence on the artists of succeeding generations, especially in printmaking, the medium through which his contemporaries mostly experienced his art, as his paintings were predominately in private collections located in only a few cities. His success in spreading his reputation across Europe through prints were undoubtedly an inspiration for major artists such as Raphael, Titian, and Parmigianino, all of whom collaborated with printmakers in order to promote and distribute their work.

Durer died in 1528 and was buried in the churchyard of Johanniskirchhof in Nuremberg. That he was one of his country's most influential artists is manifest in the impressive number of pupils and imitators that he had. The extent to which Durer was internationally celebrated is apparent in the literary testimony of the Florentine artist Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), in whose Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters and Sculptors, the importance of Albrecht Durer, the "truly great painter and creator of the most beautiful copper engravings," is repeatedly stressed. Durer probably felt himself to be an "artist-prince," and his self-portraits seem incontestably to show a man sure of his own genius.
http://www.imaginarymuseum.net/view/flipcard

<excursus>
There is a legendary story behind his picture "The Praying Hands"! (see Jan.4, 2012 exhibit)
In the 15th century, in a village near Nuremberg, lived a family with eighteen children. In order merely to keep food on the table for this mob, the father, a goldsmith, worked almost eighteen hours a day. Despite their seemingly hopeless condition, two of his children, Albrecht and Albert, had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew full well that their father would never be financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the Academy.

After many long discussions, the two boys finally worked out a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down into the nearby mines and, with his earnings, support his brother while he attended the academy. Then, when that brother who won the toss completed his studies, in four years, he would support the other brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork or, if necessary, also by laboring in the mines. They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to Nuremberg. Instead, Albert went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother, Albrecht, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate sensation. His etchings, his woodcuts, and his oils were far better than those of most of his professors, and by the time he graduated, he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his commissioned works.

When Albrecht returned to his village, the Durer family held a festive dinner on their lawn to celebrate his triumphant homecoming. After a long and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his honored position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother, Albert, for the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfill his ambition. His closing words were, "And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you." All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, tears streaming down his pale face, shaking his lowered head from side to side while he sobbed and repeated, over and over, "No ...no ...no ...no." Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He glanced down the long table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands close to his right cheek, he said softly, "No, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look ... look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. No, brother ... for me it is too late."

One day, to pay homage to Albert for all that he had sacrificed, Albrecht Durer painstakingly drew the hands with palms together and thin fingers stretched skyward. He called his powerful drawing simply "Hands," but the entire world almost immediately opened their hearts to his great masterpiece and renamed his tribute of love "The Praying Hands."