Classroom Use of the Art Print

Article excerpt

Albrecht Durer (German; 1471.1528). Self-Portrait, 1498. Oil on wood, 20 1/2" x 16 1/2". Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.


* While Durer was on his travels, he painted a number of small watercolors of places he had visited. Very few landscapes were made 500 years ago of actual places, so these pictures are helpful in understanding what towns looked like at the end of the Middle Ages. Durer also made some very detailed watercolors of animals and plants that show another side of his artist talent.

* The artist was not only a painter, he was also a master of engraving in copper and wood. Engravings in art are made by cutting the lines of a design or a picture in a sheet of copper or wood (a plate) using a sharp tool called a "burin." The finished drawing on the plate is then covered with printing ink. The ink in then wiped from the surface of the plate leaving ink only in the cut-out lines that were cut in it. Soft paper is then squeezed on the plate using a printer's press so that the paper picks up the ink left in the engraved grooves. In this way, these grooves become the black lines of the printed picture. This kind of printing is called "intaglio."

* Albrecht Durer lived at a time of great calamities throughout Europe. Droughts caused harvests to fail, leading to famine and death. Gangs of homeless people wandered across the countryside. Disastrous epidemics spread through towns and cities and countries suffered from rebellions. Many of these disasters were thought to be caused by the wrath of God, and that angels armed with swords were about to exterminate all the people.

Durer's own religious feelings were affected by these events and resulted in themes he chose for numbers of his engravings, where he predicted the end of the world. Some of these grim horrors have such titles as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Seven-Headed Monster and Knight, Death and the Devil.

* Students may be interested to learn that Durer's life spanned the period when the Protestant Reformation occurred in northern Europe, where people rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church and organized new churches. During this time there were uprisings by peasants and monastaries were destroyed together with the many works of art in them.

In 1512 when Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic Church to reform itself Durer was in his forties. Durer sympathized with Luther and corresponded with him, although the two never met.

* Durer's art can be better understood if it is studied with what was happening during his life. It was the time when the Middle Ages were coming to a close and the modern world was just beginning to take shape. …