Magazine article The Spectator

A Wonder to Behold

Magazine article The Spectator

A Wonder to Behold

Article excerpt

Exhibitions 2

A wonder to behold

Dürer and the Virgin in the Garden

National Gallery, Sunley Room, until 20 June

While Albrecht Dürer is an Old Master name familiar to most, this German Renaissance artist continues to be judged along the lines set out by John Ruskin: put succinctly, Dürer and his art were moral, deeply religious and morbid. This well-conceived exhibition of some 20 works, therefore, serves as something of a revelation, as was audibly apparent when I visited the display. Not only are we presented with the faultless scholarship that we have come to expect (as a result of which major loans are forthcoming), but also the intriguing discoveries of the National Gallery's conservation department - in the exhibition dealt with under the sections 'How the Painting was Composed' and 'What the Underdrawing Reveals'.

The theme of the exhibition is the development of Dürer's images of the Virgin and Child, set in a late spring/early summer garden. Central to this display is the National Gallery's own painting, 'The Virgin and Child' ('The Madonna with the Iris') c. 1500-10, an oil on oak panel, and purchased in 1945 as an autographed Dürer. Within ten years of its acquisition, however, the work was devalued as a 17th-century 'copy or pastiche'. Following recent comparable examinations of the panel's paint layers, underdrawing and naturalistic detail, the painting is now ascribed to the Workshop of Dürer. Dürer had several talented pupils, who included Hans Suess von Kulmbach, Hans Schaufelein and Hans Baldung Grien, and it is thought that several hands played a role in the painting of the work; the original underdrawing, however, is excitingly attributed to the sole hand of the master himself.

The contextual loans to this exhibition are impressive. The Albertina in Vienna has lent the famous 'Great Piece of Turf' of 1503, as well as the elaborate compositional study The Virgin with the Animals' c. …

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