On display until June 9, 2013
By Patricia Keegan
The first time I beheld Albrecht Dürer’s drawings, I was spellbound. It was in Weimar, in the former East Germany, shortly after the Berlin wall came down. I remember looking at the lines, at the detail, but mostly at the emotion depicted in the head’s slight tilt, in the eyes, in the fineness and confidence of each line. To me it spoke of a heroic intimacy with life. Far from being an art critic, I only know what excites me -- and what doesn’t -- and here was the epitome of the combined magic of pencil, soul and paper.
On a recent visit to the National Gallery of Art, once again I saw even more of the amazing work of this great master. I particularly love the head drawings starting with the artist’s self portrait at 18 years of age, the Head of Christ, Head of a Young Woman, Head of an Apostle with cap, Head of an Apostle Looking Up, until finally I became teary-eyed standing in front of An Elderly Man of Ninety Three Years. The set of the head, the sadness of lowered eyes, the lined, dry-looking skin, the curly beard, all combine to create a profoundly moving image of life. In my humble opinion this drawing should inhabit the same space in the world’s consciousness as Leonardo da Vinci’s, Mona Lisa.
Albrecht Dürer was a contemporary of Leonardo; he was the reigning genius of the Renaissance in northern Europe, just as Leonardo was for the Renaissance in Italy. They were similar in their intense intellectual curiosity, but art historians site a major difference -- while Leonardo looked outward at the bigger world to find out how things worked, Durer was determined to look inward and explore the mystery of the human soul.
Born in Nuremberg in 1471, Albrecht Dürer grew up in an environment of late Gothic courtly grace and religious intensity. This, and the combined influence of trade scholarship and culture, is intertwined with each of his watercolors, prints and drawings. Not only is this the largest collection of Dürer’s work in the world, it is also distinguished by the sheer number of the artist’s greatest works.
The National Gallery exhibit is a wonderful reflection of the trust and friendship of the Albertina, in Vienna, in sharing this magnificent collection with American art lovers who live in Washington, or come for a visit. It offers an opportunity to press the PAUSE button on a world of stress, while experiencing the depth and quiet impact of each of these masterpieces.
For more information on the Dürer exhibit, as well as other current National Gallery exhibits, visit the Gallery's website at nga.gov.