Enduring Dürer

A short post highlighting the beauty of meticulousness, of precision and detail. Lots of images, very little text.

First, where the idea for this post came from: one of my favorite blogs, Vinyl Connection (down under in Melbourne, Australia), recently published a series of posts on albums whose covers featured art depicting the musicians heard on the records.  One LP included in one of the posts was Jethro Tull’s 1969 release, Stand Up.  Its cover: this woodcut by artist (and Connecticut resident) James Grashow.

Fun fact: The band is named for the English agronomist whose inventions of the horse-drawn hoe and seed drill helped to kick off the British Agricultural Revolution.

Grashow’s work covers the inside of the gatefold sleeve as well, and includes a popup of the band.

As I looked at these images in VC’s post, the works of Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) flitted across my mind. Here’s the exchange I had with VC in the comments:

Me: “[Of the albums shown] I have to say the Tull is my favorite: I love the intricacies of the woodcut, particularly on the inside of the gatefold.”

VC: Mine too. A little nod to Albrecht Dürer, don’t you think?

Me: Yes!! Can’t believe you said that!…I almost said that very thing. Great minds…

VC responded with one of my favorites emojis:

Nerd’s delight indeed.

So I spent some more time thinking about Herr Dürer, trying to decide what it is about his work that has always appealed to me. And I kept coming back to that intricacy, and to all of his exquisite detail. Here’s one of his better known woodcuts, from 1515:

Translation of the lines above the image: ‘On 1 May 1513 [this should read 1515] a live animal called a rhinoceros was brought from India to the great and powerful king Emanuel of Portugal at Lisbon . His form is represented here. It has the colour of a speckled tortoise and is covered with thick scales. It is like an elephant in size, but lower on its legs and almost invulnerable. It has a strong sharp horn on its nose which it sharpens on stones. The stupid animal is the elephant’s deadly enemy. The elephant is very frightened of it as, when they meet, it runs with its head down between its front legs and gores the stomach of the elephant and throttles it, and the elephant cannot fend it off. Because the animal is so well armed, there is nothing that the elephant can do to it. It is also said that the rhinoceros is fast, lively and cunning.’

It’s generally believed that Dürer never saw the animal in the flesh, but rather based his depiction on written descriptions he’d read. When one considers the kinds of tools that were available for cutting wood in 1515, the level of detail is really astonishing.

Many, if not most, of his woodcuts depict religious themes. Here’s one:

Christ Carrying the Cross, c. 1498/1499

Again, this is a woodcut! Imagine the skill required to carve that design into a piece of hard fruitwood with knives and chisels.

Dürer’s oeuvre also includes copper plate engravings, of which this is a favorite.

Saint Anthony Reading, 1519

Even his watercolors are miraculous. You can practically run your fingers through the fur of this young hare (who resides in the Albertina Museum, in Vienna)…

800px-Albrecht_Dürer_-_Hare,_1502_-_Google_Art_Project
Young Hare, 1502

…or feel the texture of this blue roller’s feathers also at the Albertina.

albrecht_duerer_der_fluegel_einer_blauracke_um_1500_c_albertina-_wien.990x0
Left Wing of a Blue Roller, 1512

Dürer himself said, “What beauty is, I know not, though it adheres to many things.”

Indeed it does.


This post from five years ago reveals that I’m consistent in my artistic likes, as evidenced by this line: “the detail is almost inexplicably pleasing to me”


The image at the top of the post is a detail from a 1498 self portrait (oil on panel; Prado, Madrid).

10 comments

  • Wonderful. And yes, the comparison with Dürer is no slight to Dürer. Enjoyed viewing these. Thank you — I almost feel decadent, viewing these things without taxing my feet or incurring a parking fee, at a museum.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Remarkable…and VC is one of my favorite people and blogs too. So cool to see you taking this in-depth side trip from his recent series on album art. And I meant to tell you but didn’t, thanks for some of the Classical recommendations from a recent post you published. I dabbled in some of it on Spotify and enjoyed it. I have a problem with Classical music in that I enjoy lots of it deeply but can’t pinpoint what or why, and then get discouraged when I try to explore on my own. A common complaint I’m sure, but I am eager to one day “figure it out.” And what a lovely task to consider, right?! Be well. — Bill Pearse

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting, Bill. As for classical music, the most recent post I’ve made on that genre was about Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, so I’m guessing that’s what you sampled on Spotify. That you enjoy classical music is a good thing, and not being able to pinpoint why is OK. As you note, it’s a lovely task to consider. As some wise person once said, “The journey itself is the destination…” Cheers, and thanks again for visiting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My pleasure JDB and thanks for your note! Yes, I was trying to recreate some Easter church experiences I think with that music and it worked pretty nicely. I’m a sucker for that liturgical sound. Be well…

        Liked by 1 person

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s