An old saying goes: if you find yourself surrounded by lemons, make lemonade. Although the National Gallery of Scotland owns a major Holbein, Law and Grace, ca. 1535 (see Hans Holbein the Younger, the Basel Years 1515-1532, cat. no. 152), to show German art in Edinburgh requires considerable dependence on a fine print collection of Dürer. Additionally, Tico Seifert has usefully exploited local holdings that reveal Dürer’s posthumous reputation, especially in Britain, e.g. William Bell Scott, Albrecht Dürer in Nuremberg (1854; National Gallery of Scotland, fig. 27) to cobble a very attractive and illuminating focus show that lives up to its name.
During renovations at the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland, which resulted in a large, main floor highlights presentation at the National Gallery entrance, space has been scarce throughout the museum. Thus Seifert’s exhibition was mounted in a narrow segment of the new museum building at ground level. One had to seek it out amidst understated in-house promotion. That installation also resulted in both good news and bad news: it did focus attention and allow for careful light levels on the works on paper, some of astonishing quality (especially the 1504 Adam and Eve); nevertheless, this exhibition had to compete for that close attention with various unrelated objects in its immediate surroundings.
Ultimately, Seifert produced a worthy exhibition and valuable catalogue essay. Authoritative and well-researched with current literature, he offers a new audience a very useful primer on the artist and his legacy, beginning with the exchange of drawings with Raphael and the unauthorized engraved copies by Marcantonio Raimondi as well as the creative channeling of Dürer by Goltzius. Scotland owns a ter Brugghen Beheading of John the Baptist that clearly depends on a 1510 Dürer woodcut. Along with restrikes, datable by watermarks, to show the continuing demand for Dürer prints by collectors, one unusual item in the exhibition used the reverse of a print to reveal just how often that prized sheet was repaired by later collectors. Thus, along with gems for connoisseurs, this small exhibition offered instructive material about historiography in Britain (26-32), beginning as early as the Wenceslaus Hollar etchings after Dürer holdings in the seventeenth-century Arundel collection. Dürer’s Fame clearly marks Tico Seifert as a versatile, creative curator, both a print expert and an informed adept concerning his home collections in Edinburgh.
HNA visitors to Edinburgh before 15 January 2012 have an added bonus: at the Queen’s Gallery in Holyrood Palace an exhibition of the major holdings of the royal collection of Northern Renaissance – paintings as well as miniatures and drawings. Despite the star-driven subtitle of the accompanying fully illustrated catalogue, Dürer to Holbein, by Kate Heard and Lucy Whitaker, this exhibition ranges widely from the Netherlands, Holy Roman Empire, and France, to include portraits in England of Henry VIII, miniatures (Lucas Hornebout) and full-size (Joos van Cleve). Merits a detour!
University of Pennsylvania