February 02, 2009

art of the month - albrecht dürer

each month, I'm going to attempt (to remember) to highlight either an artist or a work of art.

this month's subject: Albrecht Dürer

Dürer was a German painter during the early 16th century, right at the start of the Reformation. He is both renowned for his painting and his woodcuts, but I believe that it is his work in the latter category that has made the greatest impact on his period and those that followed.

The subject above, "The Four Horsemen," is from his series on the Apocalypse of St. John. These woodcuts were accompanied by the text of the last book of the Bible upon which the series is based. I seem to remember hearing that it was a German translation of the text, which would have been unheard of at the turn of the 16th Century (17 years before Luther and Wittenberg), as all Scripture in the West was in Latin and was only to be handled by leaders of the church. To have created something that put the text into the hands of the people (even if I am mistaken, and it was accompanied by a Latin text) counts Dürer as a Pre-Reformer.

The vision that this single work of 15 woodcuts also influenced for years to come the understanding in the West of the book of Revelation and was a precursor to the Illustrated Bibles that grew in popularity in the 19th and 20th Centuries. (When you hear about door-to-door salesmen selling Bibles, it was multi-volume illustrated Bibles!) Also, the visual style of both this and Dürer's other woodcuts has turned up in the art of Comic Books and Graphic Novels.

I am highlighting Dürer this month as there is an exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center through February 15. The exhibition--"Dürer to Picasso"--is highlighting many of the important painters from the Renaissance through WWII. Though I am not sure how many works by Dürer will be on display, I'm sure it'll be a worthwhile exhibit to visit. I am planning on going to this in the next week, so I will try to report back with my thoughts.


Amstr said...

If I'm not mistaken (it's been a while since I took Medieval Lit), issues of scriptures in the vernacular were already raging in the medieval period. Lollards believed the people should have access to the scriptures, and worked on translation and literacy. (They were also not treated so kindly by the church.) Wycliffe's translation of the bible from the Vulgate into vernacular English was 1382 (according to Wikipedia). A 15th/16th c. vernacular translation doesn't sound so surprising.

lbrodine said...

you're absolutely right! thanks for pointing that out.

I just looked and found another article that confirms that it was published with both German and Latin texts.