Painter, printmaker, draughtsman, traveller. Albrecht Durer was a German artist who travelled across Europe and we’re invited to follow in his footsteps in a major exhibition at The National Gallery where we get to see how his style evolved as he encountered artists in Italy and the Low Countries, modern-day Belgium and the Netherlands, and how his work went on to inspire others in turn.
There’s no doubt that Durer was a master etcher and printmaker with some spectacular examples on display - including one of his masterpieces Melancolia, where the winged personification of melancholy sits with an emotive darkened brooding face while a comet flies overhead. The level of detail is superb and he expertly captures the expression on her face, it’s the same ‘had enough’ expression that can be seen on anyone who has been stuck in a queue for too long.
His paintings on the other hand are far more of a mixed bag. An early version of the Madonna has her very awkwardly holding her blonde child who looks confused and more closely resembles a baby Boris Johnson -- definitely not the Son of God as he’s meant to be.
The fact Durer’s style evolved over time means we get to see some impressive portraits, but it’s clear that when it comes to large scenes with multiple figures his efforts aren’t in the same league as his contemporary Jan Gossaert whose Adoration of the Kings hangs nearby and overshadows Durer’s larger works.
It’s when Durer was allowed to loosen up in drawings that he was able to turn on the style -- a drawing of a young man captures his fleeting faint smile and soft eyes. In contrast, the painting opposite of another young man feels far more wooden and restrained.
It’s often in the smaller works in this show where Durer’s talent shines as seen in a series of sketches of St Christopher helping the Christ child across a river -- there’s such wonderful dynamism in the varied poses. Similarly with a print of a knight flanked by Death and the Devil which may be one of the smallest works in the show, but is also one of the most delightful in its intricate details.
Durer’s name may be in the exhibition title but there are plenty of works by other artists on display such as those who drew inspiration from Durer’s prints, including a radiant stained glass panel by Dirk Vellert based on Durer’s version of the Holy Family fleeing into Egypt.
Durer’s journey through Europe and his evolution as an artist is a fascinating one even if the quality of the works on display can vary. Visitors are best off seeking out the smaller works in this show as its Durer’s prints and drawings are the highlights of this exhibition.
|What||Dürer's Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist, National Gallery|
|Where||National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
20 Nov 21 – 27 Feb 22, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|