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In the engravings of Albert Durer, the conflicting ideals of mediaeval and renaissance art can be seen to blend. In walking through the Durer exhibition now on view in the Germanic Museum, one feels that he is at the convergence of two ages.
Death and mysticism produce a mediaeval atmosphere in the first gallery where the earlier pictures of the artist are gathered. In these pictures, a mass of detail resulting in a generally confusing composition and the shrouding of the human form in thick folds of drapery both denote the work of a mediaeval.
"Holy Family With Grasshopper"
One engraving in particular illustrates this devotion to realistic detail. Objects of the least significance to the central theme pop up in odd corners of the picture, and a small insect placed near the feet of the Virgin for no apparent reason and drawn with biological accuracy has caused this picture to be known as "The Holy Family with Grasshopper".
In 1505, Durer traveled to Venice, and there became interested in the Italian Renaissance. The influence this had on his art is illustrated in "The Dream". An awakened interest in the human form is shown by the central figure of a nude woman, a sharp contrast with the heavily draped figures to be seen in his earlier pictures.
Mediaeval vs. Renaissance
But Durer did not undergo a perfectly regular transition from mediaeval ideals to those of the Renaissance. Rather the two were always present in his later work, first one and then the other appearing to have the upper hand. A series of three engravings, all made within a few years of each other, shows how there was a constant conflict going on within him.
In the first, the famous "Knight, Death and Devil", mediaeval characteristics predominate. A knight is seen riding to battle, haunted by a leering Death dangling a symbolic hour glass.
In the second, a representation of "Melancholia", the conflict is in almost complete equilibrium. A confusion of astrological allusions in the background indicates the mediaeval influence while the contemplative features of Melancholia herself, obviously grappling with some intellectual problem, is definitely Renaissance in spirit.
In the third, "St. Jerome in his Study", the composition is kept extremely simple. No superfluous details are to be found, all attention being directed toward the solitary figure of tremely simple. The mysticism and confusion of "Knight, Death and Devil".
The 97 engravings and woodcuts in this exhibition are from the collection of Mr. Lessing Rosenwald. They will be on view until Thursday. February 27.
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