Advent in Art, focus on Durer
Welcome to day 15.
Albrecht Durer is my favorite artist of all time, hands down, no one else comes close. I really love his woodcuts and engravings. Communicating complexity with nothing but lines, it astounds the viewer. That he so realistically represents space, emotion, perspective, shading…with nothing but black and white lines is beyond impressive.
Printmaking was just coming into it’s own when Durer purchased a press. He was the first artist to do so. He saw in the medium the opportunity to have a consistent income. Painters, even great ones, had to wait for the next commission to come in, and money worries were the norm. Durer recognized the potential in printmaking. He could sell a piece of work, over and over again, and at an affordable price. This could mean a consistent base income, a luxury most artists didn’t have.
When one sets out to learn about Durer, without fail, along with his incredible artistic talent, the other quality that is mentioned is his understanding of business. This was a true Renaissance man. He was an artist, the greatest artist that Germany had ever seen, and extremely famous and valued in his own time. But with that he was a skilled businessman, a mathematician, an art theorist and student of nature. Insatiably curious and quick to absorb new ideas and see their potential, he didn’t just set up to make prints, he created true art, taking printmaking beyond what had been conceived of.
Albrecht Durer, Meloncholia
At that time woodcuts had been around awhile, and many were good, very good, but Durer elevated the craft to the same level as painting. His work, Meloncholia, is haunting and mysterious, his rhinoceros is one of the most reproduced images in art.
With painting artists generally waited for a commission, and Durer received many commissions. He did altarpieces and massive paintings, but he also created woodcuts and engravings of things that interested him, and then sold them. He didn’t need to wait for a commission to make a woodcut. His wife handled a lot of the details of the print business, going out to the weekend markets to sell the prints. We know that his print of the rhinoceros sold several thousand prints in his lifetime, and there is still a strong market for the piece today.
Doing so many woodcuts, and being famous, there were challenges. Other artists could easily get a print, make a woodcut from it, then begin selling them. Many people did just that. Copyrights were not a thing. Durer actually went to court with one competitor and the judgement was that there was nothing wrong with copying the picture, but on the copies, his signature could not be duplicated. Of course, knowing that one had purchased a Durer was a selling point, but even without his mark on them, they were amazing prints. Most copies couldn’t match the work that his workshop did, so copies were not identical to the original prints.
Continue Reading »