The Albertina in Vienna, Austria is a museum known for it outstanding collection of works on paper. The Albertina maintains a large collection of watercolors, drawings and prints by the Northern Renaissance master Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). This past spring the Albertina lent this vast and impressive collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Durer is known in the history of art for his intense self-portraits, thought by many scholars to be the first self-portraits ever created. Indeed what scholars believe is the first self portrait made by an artist is in the exhibition. It is a small detailed silverpoint drawing completed by Durer when he was just 13 years old. (For more information about the silverpoint technique see my blog posting:mariedauenheimer.blogspot.com/.../silverpoint-drawing-history-and.html)
In 1505 Durer travelled to Venice and developed one of his most elegant drawing techniques.Using a medium blue Venetian paper (made from blue rags) Durer drew with white gouache and dark ink to create luminous, chiaroscuro drawings.
When Durer traveled back to Germany he did not take this Venetian paper with him, but started making his own paper prepared with a ground, usually blue, but sometimes green and gray. This is how Durer made one of his most icon drawings “The Praying Hands”. The drawing was created in 1508 as a study for an altarpiece for a Frankfurt church (which burned down in 1724). The drawing was done as a part of a larger study of one of the apostles. The drawing was later cut down and made into two separate drawings. (see below).
Durer introduced many important artistic traditions to his Northern European colleagues. His use of linear perspective, masterfully complex woodcuts and engravings transformed printmaking. Durer’s treatises on human anatomy and proportion transformed the way artists depicted the figure. Finally, like Leonardo, Durer was fascinated with the overlap of science and art.
Indeed in Durer’s sublime watercolor “The Great Piece of Turf” (1503) his art “creates a balance between scientific observation and artistic poetry”.
In 1514 Durer experienced a personal crisis when his mother died. During his mourning he created his “master prints” about despair and death. They include his print of St. Jerome for which he did his magnificent study.
The National Gallery of Art exhibits closed in June. However I highly recommend the superb catalog published by the National Gallery of Art.It is called "Albrecht Durer, Master Drawings, Watercolors and prints from the Albertina" by Andrew Robison and Klaus Albrecht Schroder.