The Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) is exhibiting a collection of Renaissance-era prints by German artist Albrecht Dürer. Albrecht Dürer: Art in Transition has brought a record number of visitors to MOBIA.
MOBIA's executive director, Ena Heller, says the works in the exhibition reveal not only Dürer's stylistic transition from a Gothic to an Italian Renaissance aesthetic, but also "the larger transition that Europe was going through at the time with the advent of the Reformation."
While Dürer didn't officially convert from Roman Catholicism, he was a follower of Luther. Heller told CT that "that had a direct impact on some of his choices of iconography and some of the print cycles that we have examples of," since many of his works were not commissioned.
Dürer began producing books of prints of woodcuts and engravings only a few decades after the invention of the printing press, and quickly reached "a perfection level that is, I think, pretty much unsurpassed," said Heller. "I think the world of art owes him. It's hard for us to imagine today, but in a world where every book was handwritten and so very few had access to books. For a much larger number of people from different social levels to have access to this book was a total liberation that we can compare to the invention of the Internet. It was an access to information and access to art and access to the Word of the Bible that was extraordinary at the time."
All the same, the emphasis of Dürer's books was not on the biblical text; it was on the art. In fact, in The Apocalypse, The Large Passion, and The Small Passion, the images were accompanied by text — which readers had to flip the page to read. Because the art interpreted rather than simply decorated the text, Heller says, many art historians describe what Dürer was doing as "visual exegesis."
"You think of all the [extra-biblical] devotional texts that appear in the Middle Ages that Dürer was very much aware of — they come to us through these images," Heller told CT.
Albrecht Dürer: Art in Transition is displaying both well-known and lesser-known works by Dürer that reveal the way his society thought about the events in the Bible. "To really understand this art is to understand the myriad forces that were accessible to that artist's mind to create these iconographies that are so complex, and they are still so fascinating 500 years later."
Mechthild Haas is the curator for the exhibition, which is on view at MOBIA until September 21.
All images used by permission of the Museum of Biblical Art.
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