By Amy Bridgeman,
student in the Clark/Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art
If you study art history, you definitely know Albrecht Dürer; however, I had never had an opportunity to really dig into his work. So I was thrilled when I saw that the graduate program was offering a class all about Dürer. Here was my chance!
After our first class meeting in September, I was exhilarated by the prospect of a new academic challenge. But over the next couple of weeks, fear began creep in. This was not the effect of reading about Dürer’s Four Witches or closely examining his Apocalypse series. No, this fear came from the realization that I was actually going to have to write an original research paper on Albrecht Dürer.
Dürer is a fascinating, but extremely well-researched artist. The number of articles and books about his work is overwhelming. How was I, a lowly grad student, going to find something fresh to say about this Renaissance Master? My new and exciting project was becoming new and terrifying.
Little did I know that I would have to look no further than the life of the artist to find my inspiration to persevere. Dürer was never afraid to try something new. His strange woodblock prints are a great example of his creativity. Dürer made this set of six ornamental knots while in Venice around 1506-1507. His witches, devils, and dragons may be flashy, but the intricacy of these knots is truly breathtaking.
As Eileen Elizabeth Costello explains in her article “Knot(s) Made by Human Hands: Copying, Invention, and Intellect in the Work of Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer,” the dizzying patterns are elaborations on work done by Leonardo de Vinci sometime between 1490 and 1500. No one knows for sure why Dürer made these woodblock prints, but Costello suggests that the artist was drawn to work with the designs because he was interested in geometry, a topic about which he would write several books.
Spurred on by his insatiable curiosity, Dürer not only took on the work of another master artist, but added his own flourishes and explored a completely new discipline with hypnotically beautiful results.
With renewed confidence, I have returned to my library carrel, and in the spirit of Dürer, I am pushing myself to excel at my own twisted and tangled academic challenge. As I work feverishly on my paper, I will, of course, be thinking about Dürer’s knots hanging in the Clark galleries.
Image1 : Albrecht Dürer, Knot with White Shield with Six Points, c. 1507. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA.
Image 2: Albrecht Dürer, Knot with a Heart-Shaped Shield, c. 1507. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA.