This feature about one of the summer's big exhibitions in The National Gallery of Scotland was published in The Herald on Saturday June 4, 2011
PROFILE: DÜRER’S FAME
National Gallery Complex
The Mound, Edinburgh,
0131 624 6200
June 9 – October 11 (Admission free)
Albrecht Dürer: Saint Jerome in his Study, 1514
YOU would be forgiven for thinking we’d missed summer and segued into autumn with the high winds that whipped around Scotland in recent weeks, but the first sign that summer is here in the art calendar is the launch of the first big summer exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland (NGS) in Edinburgh.
Anyone with an interest in the history of art, particularly in the field of printmaking, will be drawn to this display, which examines the work of the 16th century German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and his enduring influence.
The idea for this exhibition, which has been put together by NGS senior curator Tico Seifert, came about after Seifert’s colleague Helen Smailes, Senior Curator of British Art at NGS, drew his attention to a couple of works in the gallery archives with a Dürer link.
The first, a small panel by the little-known 18th century Scottish artist, John Runciman called Christ taking leave of his Mother, was inspired by Dürer’s woodcut of the same subject.
Runciman was the precociously talented younger brother of the better-known Alexander Runciman, who died of TB in 1768 aged just 24 while on a trip to Italy. The other work is the Scottish writer and artist William Bell Scott’s Albrecht Dürer in Nuremberg, painted in 1854.
Scott’s 1854 painting imagines Dürer seeking inspiration on the balcony of his house in Nuremberg, highlighting the great printmaker’s romanticised reputation in the 19th century.
This led Seifert to investigate further and the result is a fascinating exhibition about one of the most important artists of the Northern Renaissance.
The National Gallery of Scotland has a small collection of prints by Dürer, including a number of impressions, most of which were acquired by the renowned former Keeper of Prints and Drawings, Keith Andrews (1920–1989).
Few of the Dürer prints have been exhibited since the 500th anniversary of the artist’s birth in 1971 and Dürer’s Fame attempts to put a selection of works by Dürer in context, complementing them with objects from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, including works by Scottish artists such as Runciman and Scott.
As Siefert says in the book produced to accompany this exhibition, given the modest size of the Dürer collection in the NGS, it would have been over-ambitious to try to give a comprehensive account of the artist’s work and legacy, as the British Museum did in 2002.
Instead, he says, Dürer’s Fame, ‘examines different aspects of the artist’s fame, presenting a selection of his prints, together with contemporary and later copies and imitations, as well as portraits and works that reflect not only Dürer’s art but also the collecting of his art.’
Young Dürer became familiar with the skills of printmaking early on. Born in Nuremberg, the son of a goldsmith, he trained there first with his father and then with their neighbour, Michael Wolgemut.
Wolgemut was the most important painter in the city and his workshop also produced huge numbers of woodcut illustrations for the flourishing Nuremberg publishers.
Dürer, who never coloured any of his work, raised the ‘craft’ of engraving and woodcutting to that of a true artform. He was unrivalled in his age and the first artist consistently signing not only his engravings but also his woodcuts.
A shrewd businessman, Dürer designed many of his prints to appeal to as broad an audience as possible and had a knack for marketing his work as far and wide as he could while keeping an eye on the bottom line.
As Siefert reveals in the fascinating book which accompanies this exhibition, Dürer probably sold his woodcuts at around six times, and his engravings at an amazing twenty times, their production costs. For the distribution of his prints, he relied on travelling agents operating internationally, while his mother and his wife sold them at fairs in Nuremberg and Frankfurt.
One of the most interesting aspects of this review of Dürer’s fame is the way in which his name has been kept in lights over the five centuries since his death at the age of 58 in 1528.
The exhibition concludes by considering Dürer’s continuing relevance in the 21st century.
On display is an example of work from an installation which filled a Nuremberg square with 7,000 plastic hares in 2003, as well as a poster of German handball star Pascal Hens sporting a tattoo based on Dürer’s famous Study of Praying Hands.
Dürer may be long gone, but it looks like he will never be forgotten.
- The story so far
- I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org (All work © Jan Patience)