December 27, 2014

"Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo" @ MOBIA

For nearly a decade The Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) has promoted art inspired by the Bible through scholarly exhibitions of historical and contemporary works.  Located at the corner of Broadway and 61st Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side, MOBIA's mission is not as a religious institution but as an interpreter of the Bible through the eyes of Jewish and Christian artists and artisans alike.

Their current exhibition is a perfect example of the power of biblical imagery in the world of prints.  "Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo" presents a select group of etchings, engravings and woodcuts from the Jansma Collection of the Grand Rapids Art Museum.  Not only are these exquisite examples of biblical illustrations, they are samples of printmaking at its finest.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
"Christ Carrying the Cross", 1512

When printmaking made its debut in Western Europe in the 15th century, it was suddenly possible to distribute multiple examples of identical images through the use of a matrix - either a piece of carved wood or sheet of incised metal which was then inked and impressed on a sheet of paper.  Rather than an expensive painting or icon, individuals could now acquire and carry cheaper and more portable devotional images thereby spreading the Word among a greater population.

Presented in "Dürer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo" are pieces by some of the finest artists to work in the medium of print.  The exhibition opens with Albrecht Dürer and his exquisitely detailed suite of 16 engravings illustrating The Passion (see above) and continues with Rembrandt van Rijn whose small and charming "The Star of the Kings, a Night Piece" was a discovery for me, and the larger, more familiar "The Three Crosses" (see below) was impressive as always.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
"Christ Crucified Between Two Thieves (The Three Crosses)", 1653-55
4th State, Drypoint with burin

Another suite of etchings depicting "The Flight into Egypt" by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo not only illustrated a (now) very familiar story, it did so with careful attention to human expression making Mary and Joseph and the other characters seem like real people rather than fictional personalities.

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804)
"Joseph and Mary Seeing Shelter" 
Plate #5 from "The Flight Into Egypt", 1750-53

The British artist William Blake also interpreted The Bible and the complete set of 22 engravings for "The Illustrations of the Book of Job" is on view here.  Considered to be Blake's masterpiece, this series is almost an homage to Old Master printmaking with the melding of text and image as a modern illuminated manuscript and the use of the more laborious technique of line engraving as opposed to etching.

William Blake (1757-1827)
"The Lord Answering Job out of the Whirlwind", 1825

While Impressionist artist Edouard Manet may be better known for his beautifully colored paintings of Parisian scenes, he was also an accomplished print maker as the powerful etching and aquatint "The Dead Christ with Angels" will attest.

Edouard Manet (1832-1888)
"The Dead Christ with Angels", 1866-67
Etching with aquatint printed in brown ink

Finally, and most surprisingly, is a series of colored woodcuts illustrating The Lord's Prayer by the German Expressionist artist Max Pechstein.  Profoundly affected by the horrors witnessed while serving in the army during World War I, Pechstein retreated to a fishing village in Northern Germany to recover his sanity.  Although The Bible was not primary subject matter for him, Pechstein's interpretation of this fundamental Christian prayer is almost painfully personal and very moving.

Max Pechstein (1881-1955)
Title Page from "The Lord's Prayer (Das Vater Unser)", 1921
Wood cut with hand color

On this note I will wrap up this blog and this year with a deep gratitude for all the blessings of my life and many thanks to my wonderful readers.  I wish you all a very Happy New Year and look forward to sharing more adventures as we travel through 2015 together!

No comments: