Monday, May 14, 2012

Durer and Beyond

One of the presuppositions of Durer and Beyond, Central European Drawings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1400-1700 at the Met is that despite great artist’s preeminence, he didn’t stand alone. Hans Suss von Kulmbach, and Hans Schonfelein were only a few of the artists who worked in Durer’s studio in Nuremberg and whose work is part of the exhibit, along with that of the monogramist AW, creator of “Male Nude on a Table, “ which recalls Mantegna’s “Dead Christ” in its garish sensuality. But ironically the Durers do upstage the work of the others. “Salvador Mundi” (“Savior of the World”) is an unfinished painting that Durer left behind when he fled Nuremberg for Venice, to escape the plague in l505. The drawn lines of the face have not yet been painted in and you can see the scaffolding of a great painting that was never finished. Durer’s “Self Portrait and Studies of the Artist’s Hand and a Pillow” presents the artist’s head alongside an oversized hand underneath which is a pillow, an image which is drawn again six times on the other side of the paper. It’s an astonishingly timeless work that almost defeats categorization. When you look at a work like “Self Portrait and Studies of the Artist’s Hand,” a drawing which the curators describe as “one of the museum’s most iconic works on paper,” you confront the advent of self-reflexive consciousness itself. How revolutionary was it for the artist to wink at the viewer in this way? The ability of the artist to cite his own consciousness as a subject--that characterizes the genius of both Durer and later Rembrandt--is what is on display in this masterpiece which was conceived when Durer was only 22. 

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