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Albrecht Durer at The Morgan Library

June 25, 2010


Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) Portrait of the Artist's Brother Endres, ca. 1518, Charcoal on paper, background later washed with white lead

The Morgan Library is home to a gem of an exhibition on Albrecht Durer’s drawings, Defining Beauty: Albrecht Durer at the Morgan, which is running from May 14 through September 12.

Presented in the intimate Clare Eddy Thaw Gallery, the exhibit includes eleven works on paper consisting of eight drawings, and several prints including engravings and even a woodblock print with original woodblock. In addition, Durer’s extensive treatise on proportion is displayed as well as the Nuremburg Chronicles, one of the first illustrated world history books.

I have always loved works on paper because they tend to be smaller in scale than paintings and thus really invite close study by the viewer. The Morgan’s exhibit was definitely well-suited for contemplation as the smaller number of works allowed time for slow observation of each one. The highlight of the show is Durer’s engraving of Adam & Eve (1504) along with his preparatory drawing for it and treatise on human proportions. If you are already familiar with Durer’s engravings, his drawings present a warmer style than his typical mechanical precision. You can almost see his hand hover over each stroke; but while each line isn’t robotically straight, he still manages to keep some of his trademark precision in his spare use of line that conveys fantastic depth. The only modern artist that I believe is even comparable in terms of attention to detail is (surprisingly) Takashi Murakami and his meticulous workshop. As opposed to Durer, they create a lot of their work using computers so my mind is blown when I consider Durer alone at a 16th century desk with his charcoal pencils…

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