‘Human curiosity can be so sated by an excess of all worldly things that it becomes weary of them, with the sole exception of knowing a great deal, of which no one tires.’
Through paintings, drawings, prints, and letters, this exhibition follows Dürer’s travels across Europe. Glimpses of his genius are visible all over his works and it’s evident that he had a hunger for travelling and loved nature and animals. However, Durer wasn’t just an animal artist, he worked in many mediums and his best-known works are his engravings and woodcut prints. His engravings of Adam and Eve, Melencolia and St Jerome in his study, for example, are superbly detailed and I heard one visitor say in the gallery that ‘they get more and more intricate’, which really is the case. His Melencolia 1514 engraving shows his genius at capturing details like the folds in the dress and the human emotional aspect in people.
My favourites were his sketches of animals and landscapes, although I was blown away by the insane detail of his prints and paintings. Creative and endlessly curious, Durer was a hugely imaginative artist and certainly pushed the boundaries. It’s mindboggling to think how extraordinarily talented he was and you can’t help but feel small looking at his work. How could a human hand do what he did?
Dürer lived through extraordinary times; Martin Luther’s radical challenge to the Catholic Church, the discovery of new continents, the spread of the printing press and the widespread anxiety due to the belief that the world would end before 1500. It was Dürer’s curiosity that clearly lit him up and the combination of his great creativity meant that he was able to take advantage of what must have been exciting, if unsettling, times. A bit like now…
His unusual AD monogram is eye-catching amongst all the detail and is a sign of his ingenuity and uniqueness which seems to add to his fame and fortune. No doubt Durer’s travels to Venice and meeting Renaissance artists enhanced his creativity and gave him opportunities to spread his work in other parts of Europe. His appeal seems to be timeless and fascinating to all artists then and now.
The first major UK exhibition of German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer in nearly 20 years at the National Gallery is currently on until the end of February. For booking info, click here: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/durers-journeys-travels-of-a-renaissance-artist
Reviewed by Julia Nelson who does marketing and operations for Abundant Art.