Today, we are pleased to share guest blog posts by Peter Laird and Jeannine Atkins, a local couple who recently visited The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer exhibition and detailed the trip on their own blogs. Peter and Jeannine have graciously allowed us to reprint their posts below. Enjoy!
I can’t recall exactly when or how or where I was introduced to the work of Albrecht Dürer (though I suspect it was probably in college), but I do know that I immediately found his work, especially his engravings, very impressive and inspirational. The level of detail and the complexity of his images always appealed to me. And when I took printmaking classes at UMass and discovered exactly how difficult and time-consuming it is to engrave even a simple image on a copper plate, I was even more gobsmacked, as the Brits say.
So when I discovered a few days ago that there was a new show entitled The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer at the Clark, I immediately set out to convince my wife Jeannine that we should go.
It didn’t take much convincing. She was a little concerned about running into a snowstorm while traveling over the Mohawk Trail, but we lucked out and only saw a few slight flurries and an inch or so of snow up in the hills.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that admission to the Clark is free November through May, but to be honest I would have been more than happy to pay double the usual price to see the Dürer exhibit. This was the first time I had ever seen any of his actual prints—wood engraving, etching, and metal engraving—and they were fantastic. Literally so, in many cases, because Dürer had a wild imagination and some of his prints have some pretty crazy creatures, including a multi-headed monster that would not look out of place in a book by Dr. Seuss.
I was looking so closely at the prints that at one point Jeannine took my arm and started to tug me away, worried that the museum guards might frown on my getting so close to the art. It wasn’t but scant seconds later that one of the guards DID speak up—but it was to offer us the use of magnifying glasses in the next room so that we could look even MORE closely at the art. Cool!
So we did, and had even more fun. Dürer’s work is full of serious religious imagery, and chock-full of symbolism and hidden meanings that I can only guess at. The neat part that Jeannine and I both found delightful was that touches of warmth and humor could be found in many of the works. I pointed out to Jeannine a very cute little cherub struggling to get up on some stilts in the lower-left corner of one print, and she directed me to a very tiny (about the size of a grain of rice), beautifully rendered goat standing on a cliff way off in the background of Dürer’s well-known Adam and Eve print.
Of the three different types of prints on display, I have to say that it was the prints made by engraving on copperplate that I found the most amazing. Dürer put so much into the shadings and textures in these pieces that it was staggering to contemplate the level of intense concentration required to achieve those precise results with the difficult process he used.
We left the show feeling inspired and awed.
Yesterday Peter and I visited the Dürer exhibition at the Clark, which shows from Nov 13 to March 13, months when admission is quite stunningly free.
Peter was leaning in to look at the works until I tugged him back, afraid the guard would yell at us for standing with our noses perhaps an inch away from the glass. No sooner had I pulled him back, however, when a guard stepped forward and asked, “Would you like to use a magnifying glass? We have some in the next room.”
The detail was even more breathtaking with the magnifying glasses. I knew I’d be amazed by Dürer, but I was thinking German Renaissance black-and-white woodcuts, prints, and etchings: this could be some work. What surprised me were the bits of affection throughout Dürer’s prints.
I’m not saying his view of the Apocalypse is a walk in the park, but those are some cool dragons, and you’ve got to like birds and cherubs with eyes peering from their arms and wings. I smiled when I found a corner in which a kid tries out stilts, and in The Holy Family with Grasshopper, yes, there’s an insect with wild knees posing with the holy ones.
In the famous engraving of Adam and Eve, a cat snoozes near an alert mouse, and in the upper-left a bearded goat perches on a cliff.
“Like something out of Dr. Seuss,” I said to Peter, who replied, “A lot reminds me of Seuss. The sometimes-whimsical perspectives. And those creatures like the seven-headed beast.”
Yes, with crowns on both horns, and one head with gawky grin and another looping back under the strain of a sprawling neck.
In the engraving of Saint Jerome in His Study there’s a skull on the window seat and no sense that the saint is writing something funny, but the expression on the lion’s face is simply sweet. And there is such tenderness in the depiction of the lion’s paws and the rumpled pillows, and the scissors, beads, brushes—and aren’t those slippers kicked to the side? It made me happy.
So what’s the takeaway for me as a writer? I guess first, get to work. What Dürer does in one piece, never mind a roomful, never mind a show-full, is amazing. But after that, there’s the reminder to put a chubby kid maybe with crooked wings and collapsing stilts in the corner, especially when I’m going for dark. And there’s nothing wrong with a smiling sleepy lion.
If you can’t catch this exhibition but want to know more about Dürer and the printmaking process, the exhibition microsite has lots of information, including an interesting video.
Peter’s post originally appeared here.
Jeannine’s post originally appeared here.