Dürer war hier: Eine Reise wird Legende. Peter van den Brink, editor. Aachen and Petersberg: Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum and Michael Imhof Verlag, 2021. ISBN 978-7319-1136-4. 679 pp. 437 color ills.
Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist. Susan Foister and Peter van den Brink, editors. London: National Gallery, 2021. Dist. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-1-85709-667-5. 304 pp. 165 color ills.
Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist. Catalogue Supplement. Susan Foister and Peter van den Brink, editors. London: National Gallery, 2021. 76 pp. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/media/odeoogvm/durer-supplement_final.pdf
Successive waves of plague, several authors in the present volumes remind us, may have influenced Dürer’s repeated decisions to leave Nuremberg for extended trips abroad. Surprisingly less clear is his motivation for the well documented year-long Netherlands journey, which the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum celebrated in Aachen. Lacking Aachen’s ability to say, “Dürer was here,” its partner, the National Gallery, took a more expansive approach and incorporated the artist’s earlier trips. Both institutions set their clocks by the 500th anniversary of Dürer’s trip to the Netherlands, using his work to attract international audiences to the two exhibitions and to inspire new scholarship about the artist. Planned for July, 2020, the shows were postponed due to our modern plague. But a year later, Aachen displayed over 200 objects, roughly twice as many as later appeared in London.
Both resulting publications are handsome volumes with lavish illustrations, many appearing in only one of the two catalogues. Some illustrate little-known objects; others contribute to visual arguments. Both books succeed in giving a powerful impression of just how cosmopolitan an environment Dürer entered in 1520 and how much mutual influence his long stay sparked.
This point comes across in an introduction, co-authored by Susan Foister and Peter van den Brink, and in subsequent essays, which are largely the same in either German or English, relying in both cases on translation. The essays exemplify the virtues of collaboration, with several co-authored essays and multiple contributions in dialogue with one another. Of the 25 pieces in the Aachen catalogue. London printed 15, organizing them differently, opening each section with a brief preface by Foister, and adding a map of Dürer’s travels and a timeline of his life. London also cut three essays (noted below) and moved the remaining seven into an online Catalogue Supplement. This web supplement omits illustrations, meaning they are available only in the Aachen catalogue, and it includes Christof Metzger’s catalogue of journey drawings, detached from its accompanying essay in the printed London catalogue. The Aachen counterpart provides lines below the affected essays, directing readers to the online supplement or informing them that an entry does not appear in English. Both books include a catalogue of exhibition objects and a bibliography, and a further bibliography closes the online supplement. Accessibility remains a key concern, and the London volume provides translations from, as well as references to, Dürer’s own words, referencing Jeffrey Ashcroft’s Albrecht Dürer: A Documentary Biography (2 vols., New Haven: Yale, 2017), sometimes replacing the original German reprinted in Hans Rupprich’s standard work (3 vols., Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunstwissenschaft, 1956-69).
Since the Aachen catalogue is comprehensive, this review will follow its order in discussing individual entries, starting with its “Journey” section. Foister and Van den Brink wrote the introduction for a broad audience, and while it touches on some essays, it focuses chiefly on Dürer as a traveler in a Europe that already boasted excellent international connections. The goal here is to overcome the notion of a sharp split between North and South in Dürer’s oeuvre.
The essays that directly follow also deal with travel. Joseph Koerner contributes a typically graceful extended meditation on motion, in part that of Dürer but in greater part that of his work, especially the prints. Andreas Beyer turns to Dürer’s journal, rejecting earlier interpretations that sought to pin down Dürer’s character as well as newer interpretations casting the journal as a dry record. Beyer urges for attention to its emphasis on the physical, which he ties to Dürer’s drawn self-portraits. Susan Foister presents an overview of what we know and can infer about Dürer’s travels. She points to less well explored areas: how mobile were artists and their work; Dürer’s influence on Venetian art; and the roles played by women in artists’ shops.
The remaining essays in the opening section point the reader to Dürer’s new environment. Alexander Markschies plays on the concept of height, from the literal height of the cathedral spire from which Dürer looked down upon Ghent, to the figurative height of his career and the compositional device of a high crucifix against a low horizon line. Jeroen Stumpel takes on the journal’s famous “Lament for Luther,” arguing that it is an interpolated text by an Antwerp author and presenting evidence that the growing oppressive religious atmosphere changed Dürer’s plan to stay longer in Antwerp. Dagmar Eichberger recounts Dürer’s meetings with Margaret of Austria and her courtiers, pointing out networking opportunities that ultimately favored Dürer, despite his initial disappointment. She evokes Dürer as a serious businessman and his mutual esteem with Margaret’s court artists. Thomas Schauerte points out that the journal doesn’t tell us nearly as much as we’d like, one reason it is worth further research, such as his own suggestion that Dürer’s side trips from Aachen stemmed from his professional interest in the multiple nearby Antwerp altarpieces. These imports were made according to a system unlike that of Nuremberg and often borrowed from Dürer’s prints. Schauerte appends a new transcription of the relevant section in the Bamberg copy of the journal (Aachen, 166–7; not London). Closing the section, Birgit U. Münch points out that nineteenth-century Belgian artists and art historians gave Dürer a prominent place in constructing their own history of art in that brand-new country. Borrowing from German Romanticism, painters concocted fantasies from Dürer’s journal entries, such as processions and boat trips.
The catalogue’s second section, “Art,” begins with new examinations of work that Dürer executed during his trip. Christof Metzger studies the drawings, particularly in the sketchbooks, and he appends a table listing them (Aachen, 210–27; London supplement, 44–69). His true subject is the journeys taken by these drawings. Some objects were swapped or bought; others, made in transit, visually documented Dürer’s journey; a few he later used in Nuremberg. In the end, drawings departed from that city at varying times. Here again a subtheme concerns women, from widows to Giovanna Garzoni, distant from Dürer in both time and place. Arnold Nesselrath discusses the silverpoint sketchbook and questions that it raises. He explores missing subjects within his broader theme, a clear picture of the sophisticated, multicultural Netherlands that Dürer encountered. Georg Josef Dietz and Annette T. Keller (not in London) also examine the silverpoint sketchbook, contributing a technical examination and description of one drawing that has remained unknown, because it is on the verso, since covered with a backing, of portraits of Paulus Topler and Martin Pfinzing (1520, SMB, Kupferstichkabinett; see Aachen 231, fig. 127). Like the portraits, this drawing of an interior may have been made in Aachen. Sarvenaz Ayoogi and Heidrun Lange-Krach concentrate on costume, people, and animals with a turn toward medium—pen and ink—in one section and an illuminating discussion of archaic terminology, thankfully retained in the London catalogue. They also discuss how Dürer and others recycled drawings and warn against taking every drawing as eyewitness testimony.
Peter van den Brink vividly portrays the astonishment that Dürer’s portrait drawings from the trip can still provoke. Dazzling in numbers and the wide range of media, they nevertheless remain virtually unique in their successful marketing as finished works. Till-Holger Borchert looks at painted portraits, ending with what he sees as Dürer’s drive for classical immutability. He reminds the reader that paintings moved even more readily than artists, and that Netherlandish portraits had already influenced Dürer long before his journey. Borchert brings another underexamined group to the fore, German patrons in foreign places whose desire for depiction in the local style may have influenced some of Dürer’s choices.
Dürer chose a belated return to Passion subjects in drawings that he began on the journey, as Dana E. Cowen outlines. Cowen relates the drawings to paintings, including Dürer’s Road to Calvary. Two copies of the latter feature in the essay by Marina Langner (not London). Using close physical examination and overlays, she shows how the copies must have been created. Steen Alsteens expands on earlier suggestions that Dürer’s unusually extensive and varied group of studies and sketches for a sacra conversazione may have been preparatory for a painting intended for Margaret of Austria. Rounding out this section, Astrid Harth and Maximiliaan P.J. Martens discuss the St. Jerome that Dürer painted in Antwerp. They point out the painting’s influence but also draw attention to the patron’s part in determining religious imagery, a point of special salience against the shifting, dangerous religious background of the early sixteenth-century Netherlands.
The Aachen catalogue’s final section, “Reception,” opens with Giulia Bartrum’s essay on the Crucifixion in Outline. She labels it a pastiche and connects it to Hieronymus Cock by way of Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle. Bartrum stresses Dürer’s enduring influence, the running theme of this section. Jaco Rutgers illustrates the decades-long effect that Dürer’s large-scale Calvary drawing had on paintings, prints, and sculptures in Antwerp, providing insight into Antwerp workshop practice, a subtheme in several essays. Dagmar Preising updates the scholarly tradition of studying Netherlandish art in relation to Dürer. She focuses on painting and sculpture, not prints and drawings, and in answering why so many artists followed Dürer’s models, she points to his fashionable new forms, the market need for models to speed up production, and humanist interests.
Christiaan Vogelaar turns to the most successful and famous of Dürer’s followers in printmaking, Lucas van Leyden. Star-struck and already under Dürer’s influence before they met, Lucas would see this meeting as the central event of his life. Vogelaar discusses the older artist’s influence, arguing that it extended across Lucas’s lifetime, even touching his palette choices and works that no longer bear any hint of Dürer models. Larry Silver traces Dürer’s influence on an artist he did not personally meet, Jan Gossart. As with Lucas, Dürer’s influence is observable from early in Gossart’s career, but is still more obvious after the journey. Silver also points to tantalizing journal evidence that Dürer knew his effect and was prepared to approach Gossart’s work with a particularly critical eye. Dirk Vellert, whom Dürer met, is the subject of Ellen Konowitz’s elegantly structured essay. This moves from Vellert’s interest in ornament to his designs for glass roundels and then his reworkings of Dürer in circular Apocalypse drawings. Rather than mere imitations, these works show Reform interests, according to Konowitz, bringing up religious repression in the Netherlands under Charles V. Finally, Joris Van Grieken (not London) pursues the question of whether Dürer’s presence sparked greater print production in the Southern Netherlands. Despite evidence of the region’s poor initial interest in printmaking, the record is fragmentary and circumstantial. Van Grieken shows that Netherlandish experiments in printmaking predated Dürer’s visit, if not by much. Gratifyingly, his discussion includes less well-known printmakers, such as Frans Crabbe van Espleghem.
Each book’s advantages are sometimes its disadvantages. The Aachen catalogue offers large illustrations, annotations conveniently placed in each text’s inner margin (rather than London’s end notes), and uniform numbering of illustrations, including catalogued objects. Those choices make the book easy to use, but at the cost of its cumbersome size. The London catalogue, while more easily moved and opened, has confusing captions that use dual numbering to distinguish between catalogued objects and additional illustrations. Although the catalogue at the back of the volume includes each work’s number, its order is alphabetical by artist’s name. Additionally, in the online supplement, parenthetic references to inventory numbers and collections replace illustrations. Since numerous essays rely on close formal analyses of the objects under discussion, they now lack important supporting evidence. Often enough, the objects are in collections with extensive online catalogues, so the decision not to provide at least some hyperlinks is baffling.
The collaborative nature of the catalogues made translation unavoidable, and a few flaws emerge. Dagmar Preising’s “seiner [Julius Held’s] 1931 veröffentlichten Freiburger Dissertation” (“his Freiburg dissertation, published in 1931,” Aachen, 497) becomes a “dissertation completed at the University of Freiburg in 1931” (London supplement, 25). Held completed that dissertation in 1930, but readers will not know that the mistake is the translator’s, not the author’s. Astrid Harth and Maximiliaan P.J. Martens describe “der demonstrative Gestus” of St. Jerome (“the demonstrative gesture,” Aachen, 446), translated as “Jerome’s demonstrative request” (London, 261). Peter van den Brink writes, “Alle weiteren mit Feder und Tusche gefertigten Porträts zeichnete Dürer vermutlich direkt in sein Reisejournal” (“Dürer presumably drew all further pen-and-ink portraits directly into his journal,” Aachen, 302). Rendered as “All other portrait drawings in pen and ink, six of which are known today, were probably part of his journal” (London, 206), the line is inaccurate and missing immediacy, the sense of Dürer using journal pages and the same tool for both writing and drawing.
Such problems are to be expected and do not detract from the catalogues’ value. Using two languages to publish exciting new scholarship, they should be seen as complements, not rivals. The essays, their illustrations, and their scholarly apparatus make the volumes indispensable for the study of Dürer and art in and from the Southern Netherlands. The London catalogue is physically easier to use and makes scholarship accessible to those who cannot read German. The Aachen catalogue, bulky though it is, puts all that scholarship in one volume.
Miriam H. Kirch
University of North Alabama