Albert Dürer

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ALBERT DÜRER

BY

T. STURGE MOORE

1905


[Transcriber’s note: The printing errors of the original have been retained in this etext.]

PREFACE

When the late Mr. Arthur Strong asked me to undertake the present volume, I pointed out to him that, to fulfil the advertised programme of the Series he was editing, was more than could be hoped from my attainments. He replied, that in the case of Dürer a book, fulfilling that programme, was not called for, and that what he wished me to attempt, was an appreciation of this great artist in relation to general ideas. I had hoped to benefit very largely by my editor’s advice and supervision, but this his illness and death prevented. His great gifts and brilliant accomplishments, already darkened and distressed by disease, were all too soon to be utterly quenched; and I can but here express, not only my sense of personal loss in the hopes which his friendly welcome and generous intercourse had created and which have been so cruelly dashed by the event, but also that of the void which his disappearance has left in the too thin ranks of those who, filled with reverence and enthusiasm for the great traditions of the past, seem nevertheless eager and capable of grappling with the unwieldy present. Let and restricted had been the recognition of his maturing worth, and now we must do without both him and the impetus of his so nearly assured success.

The present volume, then, is not the result of new research; nor is it an abstract resuming historical and critical discoveries on its subject up to date. Of this latter there are several already before the British public; the former, as I said, it was not for me to attempt. Nor do I feel my book to be altogether even what it was intended to be; but am conscious that too much space has been given to the enumeration of Dürer’s principal works and the events of his life without either being made exhaustive. Still, I hope that even these parts may be found profitable by those who are not already familiar with the subjects with which they deal. To those for whom these subjects are well known, I should like to point out that Parts I. and IV. and very much of Part III. embody my chief intention; that chapter 1 of Part I. finds a further illustration in division iii. of chapter 4, Part II.; and that division vi., chapter 1, Part II., should be taken as prefatory to chapter 1, Part IV.

Should exception be taken to the works chosen as illustrations, I would explain that the means of reproduction, the degree of reduction necessitated by the size of the page, and other outside considerations, have severely limited my choice. It is entirely owing to the extreme kindness of the Dürer Society–more especially of its courteous and enthusiastic secretaries, Mr. Campbell Dodgson and Mr. Peartree–that four copper-plates have so greatly enhanced the adequacy of the volume in this respect.

I have gratefully to acknowledge Sir Martin Conway’s kindness in permitting me to quote so liberally from his “Literary Remains of Albrecht Dürer,” by far the best book on this great artist known to me. Mr. Charles Eaton’s translation of Thausing’s “Life of Dürer,” the “Portfolios of the Dürer Society,” and Dr. Lippmanb “Drawings of Albrecht Dürer,” are the only other works on my subject to which I feel bound to acknowledge my indebtedness. Lastly, I must express deep gratitude to my learned friend, Mr. Campbell Dodgson, for having so generously consented, by reading the proofs, to mitigate my defect in scholarship.

CONTENTS

PREFACE

PART I

CONCERNING GENERAL IDEAS IMPORTANT TO THE
COMPREHENSION OF DÜRER’S LIFE AND ART

  I. THE IDEA OF PROPORTION
  II THE INFLUENCE OF RELIGION ON THE CREATIVE IMPULSE

PART II

DÜRER’S LIFE IN RELATION TO THE TIMES
IN WHICH HE LIVED

  I. DÜRER’S ORIGIN, YOUTH, AND EDUCATION
  II. THE WORLD IN WHICH HE LIVED
  III. DÜRER AT VENICE
  IV. HIS PATRONS AND FRIENDS
  V. DÜRER, LUTHER, AND THE HUMANISTS
  VI. DÜRER’S JOURNEY TO THE NETHERLANDS
  VII. DÜRER’S LAST YEARS
  

PART III

DÜRER AS A CREATOR

  I. DÜRER’S PICTURES
  II. DÜRER’S PORTRAITS
  III. DÜRER’S DRAWINGS
  IV. DÜRER’S METAL ENGRAVINGS
  V. DÜRER’S WOODCUTS
  VI. DÜRER’S INFLUENCES AND VERSES

PART IV

DÜRER’S IDEAS

  I. THE IDEA OF A CANON OF PROPORTION FOR THE HUMAN FIGURE
  II. THE IMPORTANCE OF DOCILITY
  III. THE LOST TRADITION
  IV. BEAUTY
  V. NATURE
  VI. THE CHOICE OF AN ARTIST
  VII. TECHNICAL PRECEPTS
  VIII. IN CONCLUSION
  

INDEX

ILLUSTRATIONS

Apollo and Diana, Metal Engraving
Water-colour drawing of a Hare
Pilate Washing his Hands. Metal Engraving
Agnes Frey
“Mein Angnes”
Wilibald Pirkheimer
Hans Burgkmair
Adoration of the Trinity
St. Christopher
Assumption of the Magdalen
Dürer’s Mother
Maximilian
Frederick the Wise
Silver-point Portrait
Erasmus
Drawing of a Lion
Lucas van der Leyden
Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate. Metal Engraving
St. George and St. Eustache
Martyrdom of Ten Thousand Saints
Road to Calvary
Portrait of Dürer
Portrait of Dürer
Albert Dürer the Elder
Gswolt Krel
Portrait at Hampton Court
Portrait of a Lady
Michel Wolgemuth
Hans Imhof
“Jakob Muffel”
Study of a Hound
Memento Mei
Silver-point Portrait
Portrait in Black Chalk
Cherub for a Crucifixion
Apollo and Diana
An Old Castle
Melancholia
Detail from “The Agony in the Garden”
Angel with Sudarium
The Small Horse
The Great Fortune, or Nemesis
Silver-point Drawing
St. Michael and the Dragon
Detail from “The Meeting at the Golden Gate”
Detail from “The Nativity”
Dürer’s Armorial Bearings
Christ haled before Annas
The Last Supper
Saint Antony, Metal Engraving
“In the Eighteenth Year”
“Una Vilana Wendisch”
Charcoal Drawing


CHAPTER I

THE IDEA OF PROPORTION

I

Ich hab vernomen wie der siben weysen aus kriechenland ainer gelert hab das dymass in allen dingen sitlichen und naturlichen das pest sey.

DÜRER, British Museum MS., vol. iv., 82a.

I have heard how one of the Seven Sages of Greece taught that measure is in all things, physical and moral, best.

La souveraine habileté consiste à bien connaitre le prix des choses. LA ROCHEFOUCAULD, III. 252.

Sovereign skill consists in thoroughly understanding the value of things.

The attempt that the last quarter century has witnessed, to introduce the methods of science into the criticism of works of art, has tended, it seems to me, to put the question of their value into the background. The easily scandalous inquiries, “Who?” “When?” “Where?” have assumed an impertinent predominance. When I hear people very decidedly asserting that such a picture was painted by such an one, not generally supposed to be the author, at such a time, &c. &c., I often feel uneasy in the same way as one does on being addressed in a loud voice in a church or a picture gallery, where other persons are absorbed in an acknowledged and respected contemplation or study. I feel inclined to blush and whisper, for fear of being supposed to know the speaker too well. It is an awkward moment with me, for I am in fact very good friends with many such persons. “Sovereign skill consists in thoroughly understanding the value of things”–not their commercial value only, though that is sovereign skill on the Exchange, but their value for those whose chief riches are within them. The value of works of art is an intimate experience, and cannot be estimated by the methods of exact science as the weight of a planet can. There are and have been forgeries that are more beautiful, therefore more valuable, than genuine specimens of the class of work which they figure as. I feel that the specialist, with his special measure and point of view, often endangers the fair name and good repute of the real estimate; and that nothing but the dominion and diffusion of general ideas can defend us against the specialist and keep the specialist from being carried away by bad habits resulting from his devotion to a single inquiry.

There was one general idea, of the greatest importance in determining the true value of things, which preoccupied Dürer’s mind and haunted his imagination: the idea of proportion. I propose therefore to attempt to make clear to myself and my readers what the idea of proportion really implies, and of what service a sense for proportion really is; secondly, to determine the special use of the term in relation to the appreciation of works of art; thirdly, in relation to their internal structure;–before proceeding to the special studies of Dürer as a man and an artist.

II

I conceive the human reason to be the antagonist of all known forces other than itself, and that therefore its most essential character is the hope and desire to control and transform the universe; or, failing that, to annihilate, if not the universe, at least itself and the consciousness of a monster fact which it entirely condemns. In this conception I believe myself to be at one with those by whom men have been most influenced, and who, with or without confidence in the support of unknown powers, have set themselves deliberately against the face of things to die or conquer. This being so, and man individually weak, it has been the avowed object of great characters–carrying with them the instinctive consent of nations–to establish current values for all things, according as their imagination could turn them to account as effective aids of reason: that is, as they could be made to advance her apparent empire over other elemental forces, such as motion, physical life, &c. This evaluation, in so far as it is constant, results in what we call civilisation, and is the only bond of society. With difficulty is the value of new acquisitions recognised even in the realm of science, until the imagination can place them in such a light as shall make them appear to advance reason’s ends, which accounts for the reluctance that has been shown to accept many scientific results. Reason demands that the world she would create shall be a fact, and declares that the world she would transform is the real world, but until the imagination can find a function for it in reason’s ideal realm, every piece of knowledge remains useless, or even an obstacle in the way of our intended advance. This applies to individuals just as truly as it does to mankind. And since man’s reason is a natural phenomenon and does apparently belong to the class of elemental forces, this warfare against the apparent fact, and the fortitude and hope which its whole-hearted prosecution begets, appear as a natural law to the intelligence and as a command and promise to the reason.

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