VISUAL ARTS REVIEW: The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer at The Clark
The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer
Through March 13
255 South St.
Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck
Demons and devils, seraphim, soldiers, servants, and saints, and an array of animals from farmyard to forest can all be found in the expressive works of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), the great German artist. Seventy-five pieces, selected from The Clark’s seldom-seen collection of more than three hundred Dürer prints, comprise the exhibition The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer, which offers viewers a window into the turbulent world of the sixteenth century, when enormous changes in politics, religion, the arts, and technology triggered Dürer’s expansive imagination.
This fascinating show, on view at The Clark through March 13, is a terrific opportunity to see many of Dürer’s prints in their original size, which is essential to fully appreciate the masterful technique not only in the print-making but in the meticulous draftsmanship. Racks of magnifying glasses are provided in the galleries to further enable close study of these wonderful works.
Spending time with the prints of Dürer is instructive on many levels. Minute details of sixteenth-century clothing, from the peasantry to the wealthy, can be studied, as well as armor and weaponry of the period. The European landscape of Dürer’s day is portrayed as well, punctuated with an array of structures and buildings that display carpentry techniques and architectural styles of the time. Dürer’s drawing ability was superb and he was a master of composition as well. His portrayals of horses are magnificent; and he managed a creditable rhinoceros without ever having seen one in person. The monsters and beasts he created are endlessly fascinating. He depicts human beings with compassion and feeling; the range of emotion in the body language and facial expressions is wide and evocative. And of course, the themes of suffering, redemption, mystery, faith, war and violence, and love continue to engage and enthrall viewers.
The first gallery offers fifteen woodcuts from The Apocalypse, based on the Book of Revelation in the Bible. The images were originally published as a book, and a copy, lent by the Chapin Library, is on display. The second gallery is labeled War and Suffering, and includes woodcuts and engravings. Two panels titled Siege of a Fortress, dated 1527, are particularly interesting; they depict thousands of troops in the field, cavalry, infantry, and artillery, surrounding the fortress, giving insight into warfare as practiced in the sixteenth century.
The line quality and the amount of tiny detail in both the woodcuts and the engravings is amazing, considering that these works are five hundred years old, give or take a few years. It is interesting to compare the visual qualities of the different printing techniques; the engravings have a subtle beauty that is really breathtaking.
The third room contains the group of works titled Enigma, and includes symbolic and mysterious works such as Knight, Death, and the Devil and Melencolia I. The fourth area is labeled Symbolic Space and includes images from a 1511 series The Life of the Virgin. Finally, the last gallery includes images grouped under the title Gender Anxiety, with the 1497 print The Four Witches and the iconic Adam and Eve.
With all the compelling reasons to visit this exhibition, from the technical mastery to the historic content, there is also the subtle beauty of many of the images. The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer is a magnificent show, an important show, and it shouldn’t be missed.
Lesley Ann Beck, the managing editor of Berkshire Living magazine, reviews theater and the arts for www.berkshireliving.com.