Gothic Era

 

 



Albrecht Durer


 
 
 
   
Gothic Art Map
 
   
   
Exploration:
Albrecht Durer
 
 
    Formative Years: The First Journeys, 1483-1494    
    First Trip to Italy, 1494-1495    
    Durer's Workshop in Nuremberg, 1495-1505    
    Second Trip to Italy, 1505-1507    
    Nuremberg, 1507-1520    
    Journey to the Netherlands, 1520-1521    
    Final Years in Nuremberg, 1521-1528    
    The Self-Portraits    
    Conclusion    
    Chronological Table    
         
    GRAPHICS
 
   
    Exploration: Gothic Era  (Gothic and Early Renaissance)
 
 
                 



 

 

 
 

Second Trip to Italy, 1505-7

 



 

 

 

Durer's supposed sojourns in Florence and Rome are not documented. Nevertheless, his drawings modeled on Leonardo's works and his sketches for Christ among the Doctors, signed "Romae 1506", traced from Leonardesque studies on physiognomy (see also Heller Altar), lead one to the conclusion that he stayed in Florence at the workshop of the Tuscan painter, twelve years his junior. The master, however, was certainly not there, since he was away in Milan. In addition, Durer must have at least seen Raphael's Coronation of the Virgin, of 1503, whose reflection is unmistakable in his impressive altarpiece, painted in 1508-9, and commissioned from Jakob Heller for the Dominican Church in Frankfurt (compare with the Heller Altar).
As for Rome, we know that Durer wanted to go there from Venice, as part of Maximilian's retinue. Maximilian was proceeding there to be crowned emperor by the pope, but the Republic of Venice did not allow him to cross her territories with his army. Durer must have begun his journey alone. He probably had urgent cause to go to Rome because his commercial agent in charge of his engravings had died there, incurring a sizable economic loss for him. However, Durer must have stayed in Florence and Rome rather briefly, as only very few of his art works reveal signs of these cities. On the other hand, the influence of Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo on Roman art began only after his visit of 1506.

 

 

 

 

 


Christ Among the Doctors
1506
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid

 
       


Christ Among the Doctors (detail)
1506
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid

 

      


Christ Among the Doctors (detail)
1506
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid

 

Christ Among the Doctors

Because the painting was first attributed to Duirer in 1837 by Nagler, when it was part of the Palazzo Barberini collection in Rome, it is possible that the work, painted in Rome, remained there. In 1934, it was acquired for the Thyssen collection in Lugano, and recently, it was sold together along with the entire collection to the museum in Madrid. It was not until Gunter Arnolds, in 1939, succeeded in deciphering the entire inscription from a copy in a drawing, that Durer's stay in Rome from the end of 1506 to the beginning of 1507 could be sufficiently established. It was apparently a brief sojourn, given that not many other traces of it remain and that, in the beginning of 1507, he was on his way back to Venice.
This painting is an uncommon work, a talented display of skill and destined to remain a collection painting. The overabundance of figures in such a narrow space has been criticized, given the fact that Durer, on his way to Rome, had stopped off in Bologna to study perspective. The matrix matrices of this painting are mixed: Venice for its composition, Leonardo for the faces, and eloquent language of the gestures. No one has ever thought about analyzing the "story" of the painting to find out its proper content. A young, beautiful, and tender Jesus shows with his right index finger that he is talking about a first argument, while the eldest of the doctors, beside him, ugly, pale, and indignant, has already exhausted all his arguments, as you can infer from the just lifted position of his right index finger and his folded left little finger. In turn, the doctor to the left has already closed his book and rests his folded hands passively on top of it, looking attentively though appallingly at the elder one, who has exhausted all his arguments. His younger colleague, right above him, looking rather like a simpleton, is searching frantically and uselessly through his papers for some new pretext. The old bald doctor alone, absorbed in thought, seems to distance himself from the book.
All these figures are so near to one another and pushed into the foreground that it causes an extreme sense of distress in the observer. Only the calm twelve-year-old Jesus demonstrates absolute superiority to all the very learned men.
In the top right, another old man casts a look onto the group: one understands that he has listened to everything very carefully, but that he lacks faith. On the opposite side, beside Jesus, a youth with a tense expression faces forward, telling whoever looks at him the distressing tension of the discussion. After long preparatory studies (W 404-7), Durer painted the panel in just five days.
 

 

 

  
        


Heller Altar
1508-09
Historisches Museum, Frankfurt

                      
         

Heller Altar



Central element

Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin
 
This altarpiece was commissioned by Jakob Heller (1460-1522), a wealthy merchant, member of the town council, and mayor of Frankfurt, either before or after Durer's second trip to Italy. On 28 August 1507, Durer informed Heller that he could not finish the work, which was intended for the elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, because of an illness that included a high fever. The panel was probably begun in April 1508. The preparatory works for the panel and frame—background preparation, gilding—had already been carried out by other artisans. In mid-March 1508, the external sides of the wings had been prepared for painting, and the drawing of the central panel was ready. In a letter dated 21 March, Durer told Heller that the coloration of the background of the panel had also been completed. In a letter of 26 August 1509, Durer assures him that he can deliver the finished work to Hans Imhoff so that it arrives in Frankfurt. Jakob Heller paid 130 florins; however, Durer obtained seventy more, after prolonged negotiation. Nine letters bear witness to the progress of the work; copies have been published by Rupprich 1956-1969).
The center panel of the altar, with the monochromatic gray on gray wings— these made by the workshop—to which were later added two more wings painted by Grunewald (these, too, monochromatic) was dedicated to Saint Thomas Aquinas. It was placed in front of the first pillar to the right of the entrance of the Dominican church in Frankfurt, dedicated to the Beatissima Maria Virgo ad coelus assumpta. Heller had a grill stationed in front of the polyptych with two huge, tall candles perpetually burning. One hundred and five years later, in 1614, the brothers sold the central panel alone to Duke Maximilian of Bavaria for 8,000 florins. The amount was the changed into an annuity of 400 florins, which was paid until 1781. In 1729, the painting was destroyed by a fire in his residence in Munich. Fortunately, a copy of the work remained in the Dominican church. It had been executed by Jobst Harrich of Nuremberg (ca. 1580-1617) when the original had been sold. But even this one was not to remain there long. The wings of the polyptych were already detached in 1742. The remaining parts were sawed apart and the various pieces housed in different places throughout the Dominican convent. After its secularization, the Museumsgesellschaft saw to the reunification of the pieces, and in I 877, the entire Heller Altar went to the Historisches Museum. The restorations performed on the panel in 1791 and again in 1956 stripped the uppermost layer completely. Hardly anything at all remains of the work by the Durerian copyist Harrich or from the master. The evaluation of the center panel of the largest altarpiece painted by the artist can only be based on a compositional, perhaps a formal and, limited chromatic study (Pfaff, 1971). The theme and composition were previously discussed and established by Heller for Durer, so that not another word was mentioned in the ensuing correspondence. There is still mention, on the other hand, of the preciosity of the colors, chiefly the sea blue. A drawing from 1503 (W 337) could perhaps represent the first outline of the work. The theme of the assumption and of the coronation of the Madonna was familiar in Nuremberg painting of the fifteenth century (Panofsky, 1977). But Durer gives it a particular Renaissance interpretation. The doubting Saint Thomas (or Saint John, perhaps as the favorite apostle is absent from the group) bows over to the inside of the emptied sarcophagus in the foreground and clings to the linens that wrapped the body of the Madonna. He demonstrates the difficulty he has in convincing himself that the assumption is truly happening. His lowered head is painted by Diirer in a sharp foreshortening. The other apostles are standing or kneeling around the sarcophagus. Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in the foreground, turn their backs to the observer opening the view onto Saint Thomas and the landscape behind the group. In the center-ground of the landscape, Durer stands as usual with the explicative tablet and his gaze fixed straight ahead. The background presses into the far distance, toward a lake enclosed by hills, peppered with buildings. A broad and tranquil landscape contrasts with the monumental, concentrated and restless group of apostles. While the doubting Saint Thomas is still looking for proof of the Assumption, the other apostles, arranged in an ascending semicircle to the left and right, have already recognized it. In the sky, in a semicircle of clouds, accompanied and held by a flock of cherubs, the Madonna rises toward the Eternal Father and Jesus Christ, as they wait to crown her. The faces and gestures of the men express an endless bewilderment at the sight of the miracle that is unfolding before their eyes. The variety and vigor that distinguishes the apostles, who disagree among themselves, is opposed to the monumentality of the isolated group in the foreground, consisting of the princes of the apostles, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Each detail of the panel—for example, the bare feet of Saint Peter, precluding a Caravaggio—has been carefully studied. Eighteen preparatory drawings that still exist demonstrate this (W 448-65). They are in pencil on paper, with an azure, green background. The famous Hands in Prayer also is part of these drawings.
The entire episode was conceived with an unusual grandiosity and an intimate participation. Durer expresses this in the vigor of the colors and, most of all, in the spaciousness and wealth of the clothes. It is modeled on a Raphael citation—twelve years his younger—and his Coronation of the Madonna, painted in 1502-3 and ordered by Alessandra degli Oddi for the chapel of the Oddi in the church of Saint Francis in Perugia. In Durer's panel, everything is more complex and splendid, but the comparison of the two paintings is nonetheless interesting. Durer had an opportunity to see the Raphaelesque painting while in Italy. If the commission for the painting was assigned him by Jakob Heller before his first trip to Italy, one cannot consider the Raphaelesque echo to be accidental.
Differing from the frontal arrangement of the apostles and horizontal composition that Raphael gives to his Coronation, Durer opposes to the compact group of apostles, arranged in a semicircle opening skyward, the convex semicircular arrangement of the choir
of cherubs (Panofsky, 1977). They descend gently from the clouds that encircle the scene of the coronation, plucking the lute and harp, and ringing a little bell, holding the tip of Maria's heavy azure clothing, holding up the Madonna herself. She, on her knees, dominates the upper part of the painting. Christ is a little higher up, to her left. Crowned with the papal tiara, and wearing a red cloak off his shoulders that, gaping at the side, shows the wounds of his Passion, he solemnly crowns Mary. To the right, on the same level as His son, is the Eternal Father. He is personified as a venerable old man, cloaked in a rich cape and wearing the imperial crown. He touches the crown suspended above the Madonna in blessing with His right hand, while His left holds the globe of the earth, another symbol of His power. Behind and beyond this celestial hierarchy shines a great halo, resplendent with the colors of the rainbow. From it descends the dove of the Holy Spirit, completing the glorious image of the Trinity that rises over the Madonna, who humbly bows her head in prayer.






Heller Altar
Assumption of the Coronation of the Virgin
1508-09
Historisches Museum, Frankfurt

 


Heller Altar (detail)
1508-09
Historisches Museum, Frankfurt

 

   
 

 

Wings, inner sides

Martyrdom of Saint James, the Apostle

Martyrdom of Saint Catherine


According to Anzelewsky (1991), the wings were painted by Durer with the assistance of his workshop, though his opinion is not universally shared. On the background of the scene of the martyrdom of Saint James is depicted the transportation of his remains to the palace of the queen of Spain, Lupa. According to the "Golden Legend," the disciples of Saint James the Elder, following his decapitation and under the guidance of an angel, secretly removed his remains during nightfall to save them from the Jews. They then brought them by sea to Spain. Here, they were gathered by Queen Lupa, who, with "wolfish wickedness," offered them a pair of wild bulls to transport the coffin. But the disciples tamed the ferocious animal, which took the corpse to the palace alone. Before the obvious miracle, the queen converted to the Christian faith and wanted the saint to consecrate the palace, transforming it into a chapel, the famous sanctuary of Santiago of Compostela. In a discussion on the truth of Christianity, the beautiful and cultured eigh-teen-vear-old Saint Catherine of  Alessandria stands up to at least fifty learned pagan philosophers. Maximinus, then the Roman emperor, condemned her to the torture on the wheel; but an angel—who is not represented in the painting—breaks the wheel to pieces, which explodes in the painting, its fragments hitting the people in the foreground and the emperor in the background. He, as the target of a violent rain of boiling pitch falling from a grim and threatening sky, falls with his soldiers to the ground. In the distance, two angels are seen burying the saint on Mount Sinai. He can be recognized by the cut-off crowned head resting on top of the outstretched body. Durer's involvement in the painting's execution is revealed not only in the depiction of the explosion of the wheel, but in the complicated expressions of the figures beneath the wheel and—a detail that has until now gone unnoticed—in the agonized scream of the man in the foreground, surely taken from Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari, which Durer must have seen during his Florentine sojourn at the master's workshop, in Leonardo's absence. Durer had already represented the same theme in a woodcut of 1496-97.
 





Heller Altar
Martyrdom of Saint James, the Apostle
Martyrdom of Saint Catherine

1508-09
Historisches Museum, Frankfurt
      

 

Portraits of the Patrons,
Jakob Heller and Katharina von Melem



An integrated polyptych, the two portraits were found under the figures of their respective guardian saints. They were represented in an adoring pose, kneeling on a field in front of a stone niche. In front of each of them lie their respective coats of arms. I tend to think that the paintings are mainly by Durer (the catalog of the
paintings of the museum). The pictorial quality of the images, or, more precisely, of the details that concern them, like the mohair cloak of the man or the gracious manner of the woman, support this notion. Anzelewsky (1991) has revealed, based on the fashion of the period, that in the portrait of Katharina von Melem, the dark portion between her neck and the fur trim of her cape was probably added later.


Heller Altar
Portraits of the Patrons,
Jakob Heller and Katharina von Melem

1508-09
Historisches Museum, Frankfurt

     
       
 
               
                            


Two Kings from the
Adoration of the Magi


Saint Peter and Saint Paul
Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Christopher

 

 


Wings, external facade


Two Kings from the Adoration of the Magi
(the wing with the Madonna and third king is missing)


Saint Peter and Saint Paul;
Saint Thomas Aquinas
and Saint Christopher



Painted in "stone color," as Durer writes, the external facades of the wings, visible when the altarpiece was closed, were carried out by the master's workshop, possibly with the assistance of his nineteen-year-old brother, Hans. For Heller, he writes, the Magi were three particular guardian saints. He professed to be devoted to Saint Peter and to Saint Paul: in 1500, he made a pilgrimage to Rome, and in a codicil to his will of 1519, he made the arrangements for a pilgrimage one month prior to his death that he should go to that city to see, in addition to the basilicas of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the Lateran basilica, where the two heads of the saints were preserved. The altar is consecrated to Saint Thomas Aquinas; prayers were offered to Saint Christopher for assistance in dangerous undertakings. Jakob Heller, after having ordered the work from Durer, turned to Grunewald, who painted four other monochromatic wings for him, all of which are still preserved. No trace remains, however, of a Transfiguration of Christ, which, according to Joachim van Sandrart (1675), Grunewald would have painted; it was probably located above the altar.

 

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