Archive for the ‘The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer’ Category

By Taylor French, Clark Student Intern

During my freshman year of college, I took a class called Wise Lady or Witchy Woman: A History of Witches that looked at everything from witch hunts in the Early Modern Period in Europe (about 1480–1700) to the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 to paganism today.

Now, more than two years later, I am no longer quite the encyclopedia I used to be on this topic. However, I was still super excited to apply this knowledge to Dürer’s work dealing with gender and anxiety when I visited The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer at the Clark.

The Malleus Maleficarum was a famous treatise on witches published by Heinrich Kramer, an Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, and Jacob Sprenger in 1486. The main purpose of the Malleus was to discredit those who expressed skepticism about the reality of witchcraft. Kramer and Spregner pointed out that women—who they claimed were weaker in faith, more carnal than men, and more susceptible to demonic temptations—were more often witches than men; the Malleus describes procedures to discover and convict witches.

Dürer was working squarely in the midst of the religious turmoil of the Protestant Reformation and the beginning of the witch hunts.  With The Four Witches, 1947, Dürer depicts four nude, exuberant women huddled conspiratorially in a small room. Scattered at their feet are bones and a skull, which are forms of vanitas, symbols for death and the passing of time. The most telling part about this work is the demon engulfed in flames in the lower right corner.  This could be seen as a gateway to hell.

The Temptation of the Idler, 1498, depicts a woman reaching out to a man who is fast asleep. A demon (mostly obscured by a pillar) points toward the man, but the woman (who has the long, wild hair believed to be characteristic of witches) is the main figure in the print. There is something slightly playful about this image.  A small cupid appears to be trying to step onto a pair of stilts. While the cupid is a symbol for the precarious nature of love, it is also kind of cute and provides a very different feel than the demon poking at the lazy, sleeping man.

In that same year, Dürer  produced the alarming work Hercules at the Crossroads (The Effects of Jealousy), which illustrates the passionate, fiery, and even violent nature of women, which was believed to make them more vulnerable to demonic temptations. And finally, I came to Adam and Eve. It seemed very peculiar that this was the latest of all Dürer’s displayed in the exhibition, but nonetheless it depicts the root of all these beliefs about women—their weakness compared to men and their susceptibility to temptations.

All in all, The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer was a very exciting exhibit that allowed me to revisit my knowledge of the witch hunts in Europe and see it through Dürer’s imaginative eyes.


Albrecht Dürer, The Four Witches (Four Naked Women), 1497. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

The Temptation of the Idler (The Dream of the Doctor), c. 1498. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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By Monica Bretherton, guest blogger

When I was a kid, my criteria for any artist was how well they represented horses, from the sculptors of the Parthenon to Degas at the racetrack. My standard was not anatomical accuracy, but whether the horse was treated like a static object or allowed the same presence as the human figures.

During my trip to the Clark, I was reunited with someone who rated pretty highly on that list of artists: Albrecht Dürer. The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer exhibition ties the language of contemporary angst to the pictorial traditions of five centuries previous.

Because the Clark has a new policy that allows non-flash photography, I was able to use my iPhone to pick out the details of my own narrative thread.

After extended travel in Venice and Florence as a young man, Dürer applied his prodigious talents to the study of anatomy and proportion (as well as architectural perspective and military machines and maneuvers) and made these Renaissance obsessions accessible to the rising middle class of Germany through affordable prints. They apparently took the same pleasure in a nice apple butt as a quarter-horse-lover might today.

Dürer elevated the woodcut to virtuosic levels, refining techniques and then training his own master craftsmen so that he could draw the image and have the block prepared in the workshop tradition of the era. Woodcuts require you to remove the material that will be the white area, and are therefore time-consuming to execute. The engravings were done by the master himself directly on the plate.

Some of Dürer’s most popular subjects were religious, like Saint Eustace seeing a vision of Jesus between the horns of a stag while out on the hunt. The horse and dogs that represent his passion for his lifestyle are front and center, occupying most of the picture’s real estate.

In all the prints, religious or not, Dürer seems fascinated with the worldly trappings he portrays in an almost grotesque level of detail. I couldn’t help obsessing over the horse furnishings depicted with the care of a costumer. Nemesis carries a bridle in her hand with what appears to be a snaffle bit with shanks.

Donkeys, parrots and pigs are also rendered with great care and without sentimentality. The landscapes in the background are often drawn from real locations, and include farms and wood mills as well as towns and castles. Dürer was no minimalist; every space required an occupant to bring it to life.

Dürer was a humanist, a friend of Martin Luther and other thinkers of the German Renaissance, but there were traces of the Gothic love of the grotesque in his world, and of the fashion for moralizing on human failings.

The production of the prints kept his household going, even while Dürer himself fought health issues in middle age. In a letter to a friend, he expressed a wish to do more painting, but his colleagues pressured him to put his theories into a series of scholarly works on geometry, perspective, typography, and human proportion. So maybe he was no stranger to modern angst after all.

This post originally appeared at Horsebytes, a blog for Seattle-area horse folks.

Image credits:

Albrecht Dürer, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from The Apocalypse, c. 1497. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Albrecht Dürer, The Large Horse, 1505. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Albrecht Dürer, Saint Eustace, c. 1501. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Nemesis (The Great Fortune), c. 1502. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Albrecht Dürer, The Prodigal Son Amid the Swine, c. 1496. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Albrecht Dürer, The Ill-Assorted Couple, c. 1495. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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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.

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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.

Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome in his Study, 1514. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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.

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By Ed Lessard, student in the Clark/Williams
Graduate Program in the History of Art

When I went to get my first tattoo, I dug up my Dover edition of The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer, prematurely boxed in advance of my move to Williamstown and entry into the Clark/Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art.

There are a lot of books that art students simply have to own. These are the cheap ones and the basic manuals that make up vital, visual resources of style and potential in any media. My copy of The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer, complete with sun-faded border on the front cover in the shape of the lesser book that must have once shaded its long nap on a neglectful owner’s shelf, is still a touchstone for me.

Even on Dover’s cheap newsprint pages, which do nothing for the immense control of contrast that Dürer consistently demonstrates in his woodcuts, his work is intensely attractive in its detail, dynamism, and intricacy. As a printmaker with an affinity for the humble and meditative process of carving wood-blocks, I consider Dürer nothing short of a god.

So at the age of 26 when it came time to commemorate something of my life as I moved from artist to historian—from unhappy and confused to a hopefully more settled, if intensely busy, graduate student—I looked to Dürer as an emblem of my personal history.

Despite my personal connection to the artist, his work, though created in the extremely limited, black-and-white syntax of woodcut, ardently resists translation into ink on skin. You would think that a trained artist using a marking implement literally the size of a needle could at least mimic the detail of this great master, but unless you want to go as big as the illustrations that cover the walls of The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer exhibition (which I wasn’t ready to do on my body), it cannot quite be done.

There are a few good reasons why isolating individual elements of Dürer’s works and turning them into isolated emblems is a difficult task. These reasons testify to the many greatnesses of the artist. Dürer did not work in the Japanese tradition, which is so bound in my western eyes with the modernist reinventions of that medium. Nor was he, in the early part of his graphic career, wholly committed to techniques of space coming from Italianate perspective. Instead, in his linear works, he created beautifully layered compositions with only black and white, positive and negative, on his side. If you squint at his images so as to blur out their figuration, you can still get a pulsating and lively sense of depth.


"The Beast with Two Horns Like a Lamb" from The Apocalypse, c. 1496–97. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

As the densities of luscious black line blur with white paper into a gray scale, dividing receding and advancing plains into overall shades, one comes to realize just how important a grasp of the entire surface of the print was to Dürer. He may have been the first and last true master of this approach to the medium and perfected an artistic language that, while it may have precedents, has no equal. His example can only be differed from, but never surpassed.

It is unfortunate that the power that makes Dürer’s art so appealing to me and ties it so fundamentally to a formative stage in my life when I was trying to find a language of my own, also makes his work unrealizable as a tattoo. I can only offer continued testimony to the draw of his work.

You might think that I want all great art—or all art that I think is great—implanted under my skin forever. That I am that kind of guy. Well, I am but I don’t. Dürer’s art is already there, always and forever under my skin, in my subconscious, and I simply wanted to show it.

Honestly, I think Dürer is under everyone’s skin, in everyone’s mind. Just to see a few of his prints—which we have all seen, even if we don’t know it—is to be impressed (pun intended). If a tattoo like mine was to be about visualizing and declaring elements of who I had come to be, Dürer had already played major role in that formation.

As a high school student, I made my first woodcut after flipping through yet another copy of that same Dover book. It was horrible. My image of an oilcan looked utterly expressionistic and prominently featured the text “lio,” testifying to my naïve grasp of the process itself. So I tried again, and again, and again, and again.

While eventually I did leave behind woodcut as a daily ritual, Dürer has still exerted a magnetic draw upon me. I have to thank him, I guess, for leading me here. For tempting me down this fantastic path where every day I am lucky enough to sit and stare at those same Dover pages. Now I have the chance to explore the real pages onto which he printed his images.

So, while I guess I will never really have a tattoo that symbolizes my journey or Dürer’s part in it, I do have the privilege of continuing to enjoy and attempting to understand the work of this uniquely intelligent and immensely skilled artist. He just has that kind of draw. Whether you want him to or not, Dürer will change your life.

I highly recommend seeing his work in person—just think long and hard about tattooing it all over your body.

[To try a Dürer tattoo at no risk, visit the Clark’s Museum Shop and pick up a temporary tattoo!]

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By Christianna Bonin, student in the Clark/Williams
Graduate Program in the History of Art

Albrecht Dürer, The Feast of the Rose Garlands, 1506

Albrecht Dürer, The Feast of the Rose Garlands, 1506

When I look at a painting hanging in a museum, I usually glance at the wall label next to it. This label is intended to provide me with general information necessary for placing the painting in context: the artist’s name and the date of its creation. As I have encountered in my seminar on Dürer, however, the apparent simplicity of this information belies the complex research that goes into determining it.

Many paintings, particularly those dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, have suffered due to poor storage conditions, lengthy shipments, and even war and theft. Only in recent decades has technology allowed art professionals to examine paintings with near-scientific exactitude and discover parts of a painting that may have been damaged and repaired many centuries earlier. In combination with historical research, these new technologies allows us to look at objects with a greater understanding of their pasts; we can literally see what the paintings have endured.

One such painting is Dürer’s The Feast of the Rose Garlands (1506), from the collection of the National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic. If the Clark’s exhibition sparks your interest in Dürer, the path of this painting would be worth following.

Throughout the past decade, an international group of art historians, curators, and conservators have discussed the painting’s problematic state of conservation. Infrared reflectography, a process developed in the 1960s to look through paint layers, revealed that the painting lost a large portion of its original painted surface before the 1840s—much of which was repainted between 1839 and 1841 by artist Johann Gruss.

According to copies made of the painting in the 1500s, Dürer’s own underdrawing beneath the painted surface, and other historical writings describing the painting, Gruss’s restoration was extensive. In fact, he even appears to have left out a few details that Dürer originally included. Because Gruss’s restoration is now in need of further repair, the interdisciplinary team of experts is debating the best course of action.

What do you think? Should conservators attempt to reconstruct the original Dürer painting, removing the elements added by Gruss in the nineteenth century, and reinserting those he omitted? Or, given the extreme difficulty of such a task, would it be better for conservators to conserve the painting as it is today—even if the way it looks now is not entirely as Dürer painted it in 1506?

Olga Kotkova, curator at the National Gallery in Prague, has written a detailed account of the painting’s history and outlined these issues in her article “The Feast of the Rose Garlands: What Remains of Dürer.”* Click here to read Kotkova’s fascinating article, and consider for yourself the vexed questions that art professionals encounter.

Interested in learning more about conservation? Don’t miss this spring lecture by David Bull, Senior Consultant, Painting Conservation Department, National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C., and Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation.


* “The Feast of the Rose Garlands: What Remains of Dürer,” The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 144, No. 1186 (January 2002).

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By Zoë Samels, student in the Clark/Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art

You’ll probably recognize Moleskine notebooks as an ubiquitous presence in museum gift shops—including the Clark’s Museum Shop!

Moleskine notebook were supposedly used by several authors and artists throughout the past two centuries, including Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, André Breton, and Ernest Hemingway. I’d like to add Albrecht Dürer to that list.

Although some of my peers favor electronic calendars to manage their schedules, I still rely on a daily planner to record every meeting, assignment, important reminder, and grocery list the hectic life of a grad student requires.

I have never been able to consistently keep a journal, but my stash of planners serves a similar purpose. Not only do they indicate my physical comings and goings over the years, but also how I was feeling on a given day, as evidenced by the random jottings, doodles, and other marginalia that decorate each page.

Albrecht Dürer, too, was a consummate scribbler of both words and thoughts. He kept diaries and folios to record his travels and the important moments in his life. Drawings, both studied and impromptu, filled his sketchbooks. Because paper was still a relatively new commodity and therefore much more valuable in Dürer’s time, he often used both sides of each page. In some cases, he returned to a particular page over and over again throughout the years to continue a single train of thought. He used a variety of mediums, including ink and watercolor, and also integrated words and texts.

Dürer’s most famous sketchbook is from his trip to the Netherlands in 1520 and 1521. He called this small book “mein Buchlein” and filled it with drawings using silverpoint, a convenient metalpoint medium popular at the time. His sketches cover a range of the subjects he glimpsed on his trip, including architectural details, animals, portraits, and costume studies. Sadly, “mein Buchlein” is one of the few of Dürer’s diaries to have survived.

This drawing is dated to 1521 and is linked to Dürer’s second stop in Brussels during his Netherlands journey.  It is thought to have been drawn during his visit to the zoological garden at Coudenberg Palace, where he stopped once in 1520 (he refers to it in his journals) and then again on his way back home to Nuremberg (when he made the drawing, it seems).

Although Dürer’s sketchbooks and diaries are not included in the current exhibition, you can view some wonderful examples (including this drawing!) in the Clark’s extensive library holdings or in the Manton Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. The library is open to the public from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday. To make an appointment to stop by the Print Study Room, call 413 458 0560 or email [email protected].

Do you use a planner or keep a diary? Make sure to pencil in a visit to The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer!


Image credit: Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Sketches of Animals and Landscapes, 1521. Pen and black ink, and blue, gray, and rose wash on paper, 10 7/16 x 15 5/8 in. (26.5 x 39.7 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.1848 Image © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA.

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Albrecht Dürer, Knot with White Shield with Six Points

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.

Albrecht Dürer, Knot with a Heart-Shaped Shield

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.

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Check out these pics from the fabulous opening party last night:

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Wondering why everyone has magnifying glasses? Visit the exhibition, and see for yourself!

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By Jay A. Clarke, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

As the curator of The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer, and also a mom, I think that children will enjoy this exhibition because Dürer’s prints are full of animals, monsters, knights, and other figures that can be discovered amidst a plethora of details.

I gave my six-year-old son Liam a sneak preview of the show this morning before the Clark opened. On the way over, he practiced how to say the artist’s name, which was tough, to say the least!  He was excited to see the knights, and he wanted to find a work that he could draw in my office later.

There is a big portrait of Dürer in the first room of the show, and Liam said that the artist looks like Dracula.  It is a bit spooky.

Lucas Kilian (German, 1579–1637), after Hans Rottenhammer I (German, 1564–1625), after Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Portrait of Dürer, 1608. Engraving, image: 13 7/16 x 8 1/8 in. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1978.22

Temporary tattoos of the some of Dürer’s beasts are on sale in the Museum Shop, and Liam put one on his arm.  He showed the preparators (who are busy hanging the show) and was very proud when he found the seven-headed beast in the woodcut from the Apocalypse series.

He also really liked the lion in Saint Jerome in his Study (1514).  When I asked him why he liked the lion so much, he went up the creature and said, “I love you lion because my name starts with an L too.”

Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome in his Study, 1514. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA.

Liam’s favorite work in the exhibition is, as expected, a knight. He particularly liked the feathered soldier in the woodcut Knight and Landsknecht (c. 1496) “because he looks cool.”

Albrecht Dürer, Knight and Landsknecht (c. 1496), © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

After studying a few works with one of the magnifying glasses available for visitors, Liam asked what the AD symbol means, and I told him it was the artist’s initials.  Dürer was one of the first artists to consistently sign his prints with a monogram.

Liam made his own drawing of the feathered soldier and added his initials:  LB for Liam Bradley.  He used the photocopy machine to make copies for his two teachers—and one to bring home for Daddy.

For a curator, experiencing art made 500 years ago through the eyes of my six-year-old son was truly unforgettable.

Liam's drawing of the feathered soldier

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James Rosenow’s wonderful blog post, “Down the Rabbit Hole: Behind the scenes of The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer,” was quoted in Metroland today.

Click here to take a look!


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Albrecht Dürer, Hare, 1502

Albrecht Dürer, Hare, 1502

By Emily Leisz Carr, student in the Clark/Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art

I’ve always loved Dürer’s drawings and watercolors of animals: the beautifully lifelike Hare, the creepy Crab, the silly, Dr. Seuss-ish Walrus, the adorable Little Owl (a copy of the latter even hangs in my bedroom).  These beautiful images are elaborately and elegantly rendered, and at the same time imbued with a sense of playfulness by their singular compositions and simple subject matter. My fascination with Dürer’s depictions of animals might only be eclipsed by his own interest in depicting them; he allegedly died of malaria he contracted while journeying to see a beached whale.

Albrecht Dürer, Owl, 1471 - 1528

Albrecht Dürer, Owl, 1471 - 1528

Needless to say, I was dismayed upon learning that The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer would not feature Dürer’s drawings.  When I looked closely at the wonderful prints in the exhibition, however, my disappointment was quickly replaced by enthusiasm as I began to find my beloved beasts everywhere—cute, comical, and curious as ever. Whether they dominate as the center of a work’s artistic attention or add enigma and intrigue as peripheral elements, it’s clear that critters play a pervasive if peculiar role in Dürer’s works.

Although the print Adam and Eve is typically heralded as exemplary of Dürer’s preoccupation with classical human form and ideal proportion, it also features a veritable zoo of strange creatures.  In the foreground, the curled cat seems enormously fat and spiny rather than furry, and the mouse’s tail looks impossibly straight and exceedingly long; its end disappears as it extends beneath Adam’s foot.  In the distant background, a goat balances precariously on a mountain that seems too small to sustain it.  If Dürer perfected the proportions of humans, he seems to have taken some liberties with those of animals.

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Animals can offer levity in even in the most deadly serious narratives. While a bustling crowd fixates on the spectacle of someone being boiled alive in Torture of St. John the Evangelist from the Apocalypse series, I can’t help but notice an adorable little dog (or Ewok?) staring out at me. Perhaps I suffer from animal-oriented tunnel vision, or perhaps Dürer’s complex compositions lend themselves to a kind of visual treasure hunting in which animals are part of the booty.

Albrecht Dürer, <i>The Martyrdom of Saint John</i>; from <i>The Apocalypse</i>;, c. 1498. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Albrecht Dürer, The Martyrdom of Saint John; from The Apocalypse, c. 1498. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Although it is not on display among the phenomenal prints in the exhibition, the Clark also houses one of my all-time favorite drawings, Sheet of Studies with Sketches of Animals and Landscapes. In it, Dürer juxtaposes big beasts with little landscapes, all in black-and-white except for one glorious, grumpy baboon colored brilliant blue with a marvelous red rump.  He nearly pops off the page, unlike the animals hidden in the printed works.  Still, in true Dürerian spirit, a little extra effort is required to see the Sheet of Studies itself, since it is only available for viewing by appointment in the Clark’s Manton Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs: (413) 458-0560 or [email protected].

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528), Sketches of Animals and Landscapes, 1521. Pen and black ink, and blue, gray, and rose wash on paper, 10 7/16 x 15 5/8 in. (26.5 x 39.7 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA, 1955.1848 Image © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

Remarkable features and marvelous creatures run rampant in The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer.  To find them for yourself, Dürer’s individual prints as well as the Clark’s larger collections are always worth a closer look.

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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.

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“A funny thing happened on the way to the Apocalypse . . .”

—Peter Quincy


And our three runners-up:


“Aaaahhh, I see you are bringing possum on a stick to the barbecue! That is my favorite!”



“Come now, good sir—I fear it’s much too late for you to reach Williamstown this evening—we offer lovely accommodations at our hilltown chateau just up the road…”



“So yeah, you just follow this road..till you come to a cross road with a buzzard in the tree, never you mind him, just take the left path and keep on it, oh say…for like a day. You’ll pass the swamp of the undead, and the city of the belligerent saints—they do good pizzas there, in my humble opinion. Yeah you keep following that road until you see signs for Kingdom of Rancidity, and you want to take a right, the roads a bit hidden behind a tree that throws apples at you, mind, and then follow that until you reach Wisconsin. You can’t miss it. Stinks of cheese and beer it does. Oh…btw…can I buy your dog?”



Congratulations to Peter Quincy, the cleverest captioner in the Clark’s first caption contest! Stay tuned for more contests and behind-the-scenes blog posts about The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer exhibition, which is being installed in the galleries as we speak. Only two weeks to go until opening day!


Albrecht Dürer, Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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Think you’ve got the cleverest caption for this print from the strange world of Albrecht Dürer? Post as many captions as you’d like in the comment section below for the chance to win a fabulous prize.

The polls close Thursday, October 28 at noon, and the winner will be announced on the blog Monday, November 1.


Albrecht Dürer, Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA

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By James Rosenow, Intern for Research and Academic Programs, Publications and Curatorial


“Let’s talk Dürer!”

These are the words that started my involvement with The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer exhibition. They came from Jay Clarke, the Clark’s Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photography, a couple of weeks into my tenure as Print Room Assistant.

Even after two years in the Williams graduate program, I had no idea there were enough of Dürer’s works in the Clark collection to mount a show. I was also (shamefully) unaware of both Dürer’s breadth of subject matter and the extensive process behind an exhibition on such an artist. Completely unaware of what I was in for, I fell, head first, into the marvelously strange world of this Dürer exhibition.

Once the works were carefully chosen, a large brainstorming session was held that included representatives from a wide array of the museum’s departments—curatorial, education, publications, communications—and we listened to every free association proffered:

“What about black lights in the galleries?”

“Could we have a life-sized rhinoceros in the lobby?”

“Is multimedia an option?”

“What’s the best way to make the audience feel as if they are hallucinating?”

While the last one was suggested with complete jest, one thing became clear: this was to be a very visually interesting show. The works demanded it.

Discussions over seemingly minute particulars ensued:

“Do we put the monkey or the lizard detail on the wall?”

“Wait, what about the old hag, we can’t forget the old hag!”

“Now, Dominican italic or Disturbia, which is the proper font for the wall text?”

“Is this red or that red the appropriately violent red?”

As the team rookie, I was often puzzled by this pondering. As things progressed, however, I would look back at a Dürer print that I had seen many times before and realize that it really did look better against that red. The decisions were entirely about allowing the audience to experience the work properly.

On more than one occasion, Jay and I would take out all of the prints in the show and line them up around the print room. While the point of the exercise was to permit Jay a glimpse of the show’s big picture and to enable her to make thematic groupings, for me, it was a surreal experience.

Every time I stood there, surrounded by seventy-five masterful works, I felt like Alice in a fifteenth-century German Wunder-land. The stag from St. Eustace seemed to leap out of its forest and into St. Jerome’s study. The cheers and jeers of the rowdy peasants became audible as they danced around. Even when I believed I had become acquainted with all the fanciful characters there were to meet in this world, Dürer would remind me that I had only just begun to explore his strange world.

So I looked again. There, in an Apocalypse print I had spent hours gazing at, was something new and curious. One of the heads of the monstrous beast was the head of…

a bunny!

Immediately I realized that these works will always be unfamiliar in the most deliciously strange way. One simply does not grow tired of looking.

I encourage everyone to come to the exhibition and look closely. Find your own bunny and just follow it down the rabbit hole.


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As the curator of The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer and the guest judge of the “Name This Beast” contest, I want to thank everyone who entered a name (or two or three!) for Dürer’s many-headed beast.

I had a blast reading your fabulous names during my lunch break on Friday. We had 67 entries, and they were so great that I couldn’t stop at just one winner, so I chose one winner and six runners up in honor of our friend’s seven heads.

The runners up:

Susan St. Pierre—Horrosept

Michael Eade—Siebenkönigausländerischmonströs

Lisa Paris—Fred

César Cn—Blasphenomenon

Richard Johnson—Revelalypse

Laura Szczepanik—Monstercolia I

and our grand-prize winner is…

Christine Ciskowski, who has named the beast

Sir Ravenous

Congratulations to all, and hope you’ll come meet Sir Ravenous in person!

—Jay A. Clarke, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

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Detail from Albrecht Dürer, "The Beast with Two Horns Like a Lamb" from The Apocalypse, c. 1496–97. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA


We’re having a great time learning about Dürer’s strange and wonderful monsters. So far this one’s our favorite—and he needs a name.

Head over to Facebook and post your suggestions in the comments section for the chance to win a fabulous prize. The polls close Friday at noon, and the exhibition’s curator, Jay Clarke, will judge.

The winner will be announced on the blog Monday morning. Good luck to all!

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Albrecht Dürer, Adam and Eve, 1504. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, USA


Welcome to The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer, the Clark’s winter exhibition running November 14, 2010, through March 13, 2011.

Considered by many to be the greatest German artist of all time, Albrecht Dürer was celebrated during his lifetime as a painter, printmaker, and writer. His innovative techniques revolutionized printmaking, and his theoretical writings transformed the study of human proportion. Deeply embedded in a tumultuous era of religious reformation and scientific inquiry, Dürer used his art to reflect the spiritual and social preoccupations of his time.

“Visitors will find monsters, knights, and angels in The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer exhibition, which focuses on Dürer’s fantastic imagination and timeless imagery,” said Michael Conforti, director of the Clark. “The Clark’s collection of works by this Renaissance master is extraordinary, and we are pleased to be presenting seventy-five powerful prints, all from our collection, in the first comprehensive display of these works in more than thirty-five years.”

We hope you are as excited as we are about The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer! Keep checking back for behind-the-scenes posts, photos, videos,  interviews—and more as the opening night approaches. And please share your questions and comments with us below.

This exhibition is proudly presented by Crane & Co.


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