By Susannah Blair, student in the Clark/Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art
I am a first-year graduate student in art history here at Williams College and the Clark Art Institute. Though I wasn’t expecting it when I came here for school in September, this has certainly been the autumn of Albrecht Dürer here in Williamstown.
My encounter with Dürer actually began about six months ago when I was lucky enough to visit his hometown in Nuremberg, Germany. Though the streets and buildings have been mostly reconstructed since the Second World War, the insides of the museums are lined with paintings that brought me straight back to sixteenth-century Germany, an era bubbling with revived ancient knowledge and images, new scientific and anatomical discoveries, and disturbing and exciting religious changes. It was an age rich with strange and terrifying folklore that was passing through the ebb and flow of cultures across Europe.
The convergence of the old and the new seemed to fly off the walls of those museums. Standing there, in the neighborhood of Albrecht Dürer’s house, I felt lucky. Dürer had been just a whisper in my undergraduate studies in art history—an influence, a force, the name of the Northern Renaissance. I had heard of him, but I had never seen more than a single painting here or there in an American museum.
To be surrounded by Dürer’s work is to be transported into an imagination fueled by a time of deep change not only in Germany, but throughout the world.
Between my Clark graduate seminar on Dürer and my internship in the Print Study Room this fall, it feels as though the magic of Nuremberg is here in the mountains of Williamstown. The Clark’s (insanely) large collection of prints has been getting a workout—students have pulled them out for class, curators have mulled over them, and conservators have made sure they are in good condition.
This Monday I walked through the galleries with Jay Clarke, the exhibition’s curator and my professor, as she was laying out Dürer’s prints. Seeing all of the prints lining the walls, I had that same feeling of strangeness and awe I felt in Nuremberg.
The energy in the Clark is getting ready to go up on the walls. The strange animals, the mysterious women, and the crazy (and I mean crazy) monsters are about to be revealed.
Come and enjoy! Maybe you’ll feel a sense of awe, as I do, and perhaps you’ll feel oddly connected to this atmosphere of change, uncertainty, and strangeness. In some ways Dürer’s strange world doesn’t feel that different from our own.