Northern Renaissance: Durer and Grünewald
1. List and explain at least four characteristics of Durer’s art. Give examples.
Born in 1471 in the family of goldsmith, Albrecht Durer is considered to be a renowned German painter, draftsman, mathematician and theorist (Finnan, 2008). First and foremost, Durer is known for realizing his artistic skills in printmaking. His most famous religious woodcuts The Apocalypse (1498), the Large Woodcut Passion (1497–1500), and the Life of the Virgin (1500) are characterized by a dramatic effect and a completely “new conceptual foundation” (Wisse, 2000, n. p.). It enabled him to bring printmaking to an extremely high level among all other kinds of art.
Doubtless, the most remarkable feature of Durer’s paintings is the impact of Italian Renaissance. Inspired by the diversity of the Venetian colors he created the Feast of the Rose Garlands (1506), in which the rich palette of that time was represented (Wisse, 2000). Having thoroughly studied the techniques of Italian art, he crafted a legendary engraving Adam and Eve (1504), which was further followed by a painting under the same title (Finnan, 2008). In both artworks, the author’s striving for realistic depiction of the human body is expressed. The mathematic competence helped him to manifest both symmetry and proportion in two nudefigures. The exactness of lines and curves should be also pointed out as a peculiar aspect of Durer’s pieces.
Another interesting fact is Albrecht Durer’s passion for self-portraits. In Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar (1500) the artist is often associated with Christ (Finnan, 2008). Most experts agree that the author attempted to portray himself as a self-confident, already prominent and worldwide recognized painter.
Therefore, one can say that Durer’s art is characterized by a proficient printmaking, influence of Italian Renaissance, religious and nature themes, depiction of the ideal forms and unique self-portraits.
2. What is the significance of the Isenheim Altarpiece? Describe the piece. Where was it installed and why?
Opposed to the basic ideas represented to European Renaissance art by Albrecht Durer, Matthias Grünewald dared to express his conception of the world in a dramatic, sharp and violent manner. As a result, one of the most controversial and at the same time significant artworks came into sight between 1510 and 1515 under the title the Isenheim Altarpiece (Baldwin, 2000). This devotional masterpiece uncovers a number of vital topics, among which is life and death, struggle and suffering, pain and sacrifice.
The Isenheim Altarpiece consists of ttwo fixed panels and four movable wings, which depict such religious episodes, as the Crucifixion, the Annunciation, the Lamentation, and the Resurrection (Craig, 2013). The most striking part of the composition is Christ’s Crucifixion, where His body is ferociously tormented: hands and feet nailed to the planks, in multiple wood thorns. The breathless flesh bleeding to death excites the feeling of deep compassion and sorrow manifested in the Lamentation by Mary, John and Magdalen (Beck, 2008). The opened wings of the painting reveal joyous scenes of the Annunciation and the Resurrection. Another part concentrates on St. Anthony and St. Paul (Craig, 2013).
The personality of St. Anthony was chosen by the author on purpose. The famous painting was initially intended for patients of the monastery hospital named after this saint. The view of Grünewald’s Crucifixion aimed at encouraging the plague sufferers to bear unendurable affliction of their diseases. Observing the pained figure of Christ, the sick indulged in hope to survive. The agony relieved at the very thought that God shared their endless tortures (Baldwin, 2000). In addition to a complex composition, large scope of work and author’s proficiency, the canvas fulfilled a sacred mission. Finally, this considerable fact defines the significance of the renowned image.