The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Dürer - Vol. 3

The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Dürer - Vol. 3

The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Dürer - Vol. 3

The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Dürer - Vol. 3

Excerpt

Drawings, like extemporaneous words of a writer, are the most intimate, unpolished reflections of the mind. Albrecht Dürer has left us a legacy of some two thousand drawings and sketches on a multitude of subjects. In conjunction with his meticulously planned and finished paintings woodcuts, and engravings, these drawings allow us a unique understanding of Dürer as artist and as man, and thus, of the life and thought of a Renaissance personality. Dürer frequently asserted in his writings that things apprehended visually were better understood and more easily retained than things merely heard (or read). By providing us with so very many visual images, in addition to his literary remains, he has happily presented us with a comprehensive visual history of the life of his age, one which cannot be matched in cold type. A study of Dürer’s works, especially the drawings, is an excursion not only into art history, but indeed into the history of mankind itself.

If Dürer’s remarks concerning the superiority of pictorial representation were taken literally, the com mentary in this catalogue might seem almost superfluous. The lasting value of these volumes lies, of course, in the pictures themselves, but the commentary can serve to help articulate and illuminate our visual experi ence, and as an introduction to the modern reader, to help bridge the gap of four centuries that separate us from Dürer. And the reader, or better, the viewer, will soon realize, as he becomes absorbed in these drawings and their backgrounds, that the gap is by no means as great as he may at first have imagined.

Dürer’s drawings fall into three categories: (1) Those that formed a file, accumulated by the artist in the absence of printed reference books. Lacking these, such a file was not only a tradition, but also a ne cessity for artists of Dürer’s time. Like Pisanello and the Bellinis, whose files have come down to us in the form of sketchbooks, Dürer drew plants, animals, costumes, landscapes, draperies, facial expressions, and un usual events—all for future reference. Almost without exception, these sketches were made from direct ex perience. They are not copies from older “pattern books,” which earlier had been accepted artists’ aids. Dürer’s file did, however, include some copies of the works of other artists, done in his youth, especially after designs of Mantegna and di Credi. Contrary to tradition, these were done not so much for practice as for reference, because the models were traced by the young Dürer only in outline and then filled in with substantial alterations. Dürer continued to dip into this reservoir of images until the end of his life, some times reverting to drawings made many decades before. He was forever reluctant to execute a work without what he considered adequate reference. Thus, in a letter to his friend Felix Frey of Zurich, dated December 6, 1525, Dürer apologized for the “inept” rendering of monkeys “because I have not had occasion to see monkeys in a very long time:”

If the drawings of the first group give us a glimpse of Dürer’s methods, a second type attests to the meticulous preparation of his painted panels, metal plates, and woodblocks: (2) The preparatory studies. Rel atively few extant drawings were directly preparatory for his woodcuts and engravings. Most of those that do survive seem to have come down to us through his students and close friends. We may assume that a goodly number were damaged by the needling or tracing incidental to the preparation of printing plates or blocks and therefore destroyed. By all indications, Dürer discarded the others once they had served their purpose. This becomes all the more evident when we remember that preparatory drawings of his unfinished plates do survive, as in the case of...

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