Archive for Sunday, September 19, 1999


September 19, 1999


A 15th- and 16th-century German artist's style and technique for woodcuts and engravings continue to be unmatched.

In the opera world, Luciano Pavarotti is the master tenor. He's admired by his peers, and young singers try to emulate and imitate his style.

In the world of graphic arts, Albrecht Durer is the pinnacle of achievement. His woodcuts and engravings have been studied, admired, copied and even forged.

"Durer's Echo: Five Centuries of Influence," an exhibition of etchings, engravings, lithographs, woodcuts and forgeries influenced by Durer's work, are on display through Nov. 14 at the Helen Spencer Foresman Museum of Art. The artworks range from Sebald Beham's "The Holy Family under a Tree" (1521) and Georg Pencz's "Scenes from the Life of Christ" (ca. 1540) to Dan Kirchhefer's "Sloth" from "The Seven Deadly Sins" (1987) and Tom Huck's "Chili Dogs, Chicks & Monster Trucks" from "14 Rural Absurdities Suite" (1999).

"When Albrecht Durer's fifteen large woodcuts illustrating the apocalypse appeared in 1498, they set a benchmark against which the art of woodcut has ever since been measured," Steve Goddard, Kansas University professor of art history and curator of the show, wrote in the exhibition's gallery guide. "His so-called 'master engravings' ("Knight, Death, and the Devil," "Saint Jerome in his Study" and "Melencolia I") set a similar standard for the art of engraving."

Compared to some other artists, Goddard said, little is known about the early life and artistic training of Durer, who lived from 1471 to 1528.

"As a young man, he was trained by artists involved in painting and book illustration," he said.

With the appearance of "The Apocalyse," when he was in his late 20s, Durer became the sensation of his time.

"He was well-connected from the beginning," Goddard said. "Those he trained with in Nuremberg (his hometown) were powerful. His virtuosity earned him much recognition later on. By his 40s, he was working with the emperor."

Durer's black-and-white works typically revolve around religious and humanistic subjects. For example, "Melencolia I" has been described as a "spiritual self-portrait and as an allegory of the limit of human intellect," according to Goddard.

The engraving shows a large, androgynous angel who is seated and appears to have the weight of the world on his shoulders, while a dog lies curled up sleeping nearby. The artwork influenced Francisco Goya's best-known print, "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" and Auguste Rodin's best-known statue, "The Thinker."

Durer's prints were so popular that many of his contemporaries were copying his content and style. Other artists went further and actually tried to pass their works off as Durer's.

"As early as January 3, 1512, there is written evidence of works forged after Durer's prints," according to the gallery guide. "On that date an edict was issued by the Nuremberg City Council specifying that someone was offering copies of Durer's prints for sale that falsely carried his monogram."

The most famous forgeries were made by Italian artist Marcantonio Raimondi, who copied Durer's "Life of the Virgins" woodcuts. Raimondi's work outraged Durer and led the master artist to issue this admonishment in 1511: "Woe to you! Thieves and imitators of other people's labour and talents. Beware of laying your audacious hand up this work!"

Although Durer died nearly a half-century ago, his influence lives. Huck explained the significance of Durer on his use of woodcut in this way:

"Listen, the sole reason that I cut wood is because of Durer. When I was 13 my mom and dad took me to D.C. and at the National Gallery there I was allowed to buy one art book. Not even knowing what a woodcut was or what a print was for that matter, I saw 'Battle of the Angels' (from "The Apocalyse") on the cover of Kurth's 'The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Durer' and that was it."

Huck, however, doesn't stick to intellectual or religious themes. Instead, Goddard said, he takes a look at "the underbelly in American life." "Chili Dogs, Chicks and Monster Trucks," for example, depicts the culture of a monster truck rally.

-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is

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