September 03, 2012

"Dürer and Beyond" at the Met

Generally considered the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) did not live and work in a vacuum.  Indeed, he influenced not only his contemporaries in Italy, Germany and Holland but the reach of his theories of perspective and proportions extended to artists, particularly printmakers, for generations.

Modern museum-goers tend to frequent shows that pack a popular punch - something hip and sexy like Andy Warhol or Alexander McQueen and certainly not Old Master drawings and prints.  However, in an effort to give greater exposure to their fine collection of Renaissance works on paper, one of the Met's summer offerings was "Dürer and Beyond:  Central European Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1400 - 1700".  The exhibition showcases not just Albrecht Dürer, but also his compeers and his imitators in Nuremberg, Northern Europe and Italy and demonstrates just how profound an influence he had in the art world of that time and beyond.

I am not usually a procrastinator, but for some reason I could not seem to get to the Met to see this show until I realized that it was literally now or never.  So the Friday of Labor Day weekend, a beautiful summer afternoon here in New York, I walked over just to see the show before it closed.  I'm glad I did because there were some really superb examples of 15th, 16th and 17th Century drawings on display, but I was a little disappointed that the Dürers comprised only a small percentage of the exhibition.

Some of my favorite works included "Six Studies of a Pillow", 1493, a sketch in pen and brown ink by the master himself.  I also loved Dürer's very early pen and ink drawing entitled "Fortuna in the Nude", 1498, that demonstrated his fascination with human proportions.  Finally, the "Head of a Young Woman Facing Left", a 1522 chalk drawing on green paper was exquisite (see right).

Other outstanding works by some of Dürer's followers would have to include an illustration from a late 16th century "Album of Tournaments..." that depicted a design for a parade sleigh in which two apparently naked men are playing chess while bathing in a tub being pulled by a horse!  Also an absolutely darling watercolor on vellum of a hedgehog done in 1584 by Hans Hoffmann, that looked so real one wanted to pick him up.

Finally, I was fascinated by a pair of works, one a pen and ink drawing and the other an oil on panel, both done in 1630 by Nicolaus Knüpfer on the theme of Venus and Cupid.  Each image depicts a nude Venus reclining on a divan but in one Cupid is freely urinating on the carpet nearby and in the other Cupid is on the bed with her but she has knocked over a nearby chamber pot with her foot.  Rather than being merely vulgar scatological references, this iconography referred directly to intercourse and therefore the fertility of love.  Live and learn!

I was very glad I made the effort to catch "Dürer and Beyond" before it closed and I'm sorry to be so late in mentioning it in my blog.  Suffice to say, any chance to catch a future show of his prints or drawings should not be missed.

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