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Albrecht Durer: The Master of Allegory

July 09, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 224

I once saw the actor Tom Hanks in an interview and he in essence said, that one cannot be a playwright unless one studies Shakespeare. Even though I am not playwright nor have I written a screenplay, I believe, with all my heart, that what he said is true.

I also believe, with all my heart, that one cannot be an artist or be a collector of art, unless one studies Albrecht Durer.

Aside from being recognized as being the first graphic artist in Western art, he brought the medium of watercolor to the forefront. He also popularized the genre of landscapes, and he was one of the first to emphasize the motif of self-portraits.

In my mind, however, his greatest accomplishment was that he brought allegory to the forefront of art.

Campbell Dodgson, the pre-eminent scholar of the nineteenth century and curator of prints of the British Museum once said,"The literature on Melancholia is more extensive than that on any other engraving by Durer: that statement would probably remain true if the last two words were omitted."

From his sixteen woodcuts of the Apocalypse or the Revelation of St. John to his engravings of Melancolia, the Knight, Death and the Devil, the Sea Monster, Nemesis, and one only three etchings, the Desperate Man, he defined the very term of allegory in art. For whatever meaning he meant by rendering these works of art, to this day they (are meant to ) remain the basis of speculation.

It is the conundrum of what we cannot explain that we find most valuable in the art. In fact, we can even go so far as to add to the mystery of why we are attracted to it that gives the work of art even more value.

I am glad of this. To what end would an explanation gain us.

Not that I wish to appear flippant, but to beckon an explanation as to what defines "valuable" is tantamount to finding Bigfoot or Nessie. Whatare we going to gain if we finally do "capture" that which eludes us? Dissect them? Cage them?

I refer to this "capture" or "grasping" as the King Kong syndrome. In the end, all our pursuit and understanding brought only agony.

Some things, like a work of art, are best to remain a mystery. Stumbling across the answers as to what a work of art means or why we are attracted to it diminishes the allure of collecting.

To grasp what we find of value or what a work of art means is no different. I believe Albrecht Durer wanted us to contemplate the meaning of his allegories through the centuries.

We should not disappoint him.

B. Mathew Are has been a research director for a major retail gallery. He has also been collecting and reselling masterworks his entire adult life; and, none are more deserving than the print oeuvre of Albrecht Durer. It is for this reason that Durerpost inherited its name. Please feel free to visit us at

Source: EzineArticles
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