European 'Journeys' into Image; Age of Exploration Opens Curious World

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Byline: Joanna Shaw-Eagle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Fifteenth-century Europeans fell in love with travel before they were able to travel themselves, as the National Gallery of Art's new exhibit, "Fabulous Journeys and Faraway Places: Travels on Paper, 1450-1700," amply demonstrates.

They saw other lands through the eyes of the few artists who ventured past their immediate surroundings. Travel was brutal and dangerous. Photography, of course, was unknown.

Prints on paper were the only avenues, therefore, to what they imagined lay beyond, and the works were valued as handsome and educational travelogues.

Virginia Grace Tuttle, the gallery's associate curator of old master prints and the exhibit's curator, discovered many of these prints in the museum's permanent collection and decided to chart their development over 2 1/2 centuries - the era often called the Age of Exploration.

In the first grouping, the curator shows pictures illustrating new print techniques - woodcuts, engravings and etchings - as well as those depicting discoveries in the sciences, arts and geography.

To show how subjects and techniques changed over this 250-year period, Ms. Tuttle filled the first section, "Biblical, Allegorical and Fantasy Travel," with images from classical myths and Holy Scripture. A standout here is "The Flight Into Egypt" (circa 1470-75) by Martin Schongauer (about 1450-1491), in which an angel tenderly shakes dates down from a tree to feed the Holy Family.

Woodcuts, in which images were carved into the wood's surface, preceded metal engraving. The curator appropriately included Albrecht Durer's "The Adoration of the Magi" (circa 1501-1503) as one of the few woodcut examples here.

By contrast, imagination takes flight with Durer's allegorical "Knight, Death and Devil" (1513), in which an armored knight fearlessly passes Death beside him and the devil behind as he wends his way up to a faraway castle representing God.

Images in the show's second section, "Travel to Rome, Constantinople and the Holy Land," liven up things considerably. …