While there is scarcely a shortage of scholarly publications focused directly upon the various aspects of Albrecht Dürer’s life and work – such studies had already reached gargantuan proportions prior to the artist’s 500th birthday thirty years ago and have continued unabated since – fresh insights into the customs, beliefs and regulations of his time and place are always welcome. The present slender volume of nine essays is dedicated to the memory of the late social historian Bob Scribner, and contains one of his own last articles. Titled ‘Ways of Seeing in the Age of Dürer’, it is a wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussion of the ‘image culture’ of the age of Dürer that touches upon the punishment of apotropaic images; Nicholas of Cusa’s fascination with the magnifying lens and with the ‘all-seeing’ portrait whose gaze seems to follow the viewer; the current state of perspective and the persistent belief that vision involved physical contact between the viewer and the thing seen; perceptions of the supernatural; Luther’s views on the uses of imagery for good or ill, and of external reality as a ‘mask’; the psychological complexity of the ‘picture within a picture’; and the employment of imagery for both positive and negative sensual arousal.
The book evolved as an outgrowth of an international conference held at the University of Melbourne in connection with the 1994 exhibition of the National Gallery of Victoria’s excellent collection of Dürer’s graphic art, and is divided into four sections: ‘Artist and Environment’, ‘Image and Audience’, ‘Communal Culture and Representation’, and ‘Dürer and the Canon’.
Among the most interesting essays for the specialist are those by Dagmar Eichberger on Dürer’s nature drawings and early collecting; Charles Zika on ‘Dürer’s Witch, Riding Women and Moral Order’, Wim Hüsken of the University of Nijmegen on the woodcut attributed to Dürer known as the Michelfeldt Tapestry, which is treated in relation to contemporary European literature; Larry Silver on Germanic patriotism of the day; and by Paul Münch, Profesor of Modern European History at the University of Essen, on changing German perceptions of Dürer from his own time through 1970; and by the museum’s Senior Curator of Prints and Drawings, Irina Zdanowicz, detailing the circumstances under which the collection was formed subsequently to the Australian gold rushes of the 1850s.
The section on communal culture contains interesting essays by Christiane Andersson on the censorship of images in Nuremberg under the Edict of Worms, corresponding roughly to the final decade of Dürer’s life but dealing in the main with works by Erhard Schön; and by Lyndal Roper on ‘Tokens of Affection: The Meanings of Love in Sixteenth-Century Germany’, dealing with rituals and poetry of courtship, love magic and gender identiry. Roper is reader in history at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, University of London.
The book is well produced, scrupulously documented, and has a single select bibliography.
Jane Campbell Hutchison
University of Wisconsin–Madison